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Friday, September 20, 2013

just no time!!!!

Hey!  It's been forever since I have posted.    Since the fall school year has begun, I have been just incredibly busy.    I think that I do not have time for this blog.
I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts on mental illness and recovery with all of you!
Take care and continue to be mindful!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

deep cleaning

I recently received several large trash bags full of amazing clothes.    When I tried to put them in my closet, I couldn't fit them in.   I knew immediately that I needed to go through all of the clothing in my closet and just reorganize the entire thing.   I needed to thoroughly deep clean my closet.  I spent the greater part of yesterday doing just that.


I have stated before that I am not very good behind closed doors.   My storage skills are lacking.  I tend to keep things that really don't serve much purpose.   Here is a representation of my closet, just to give you an idea:


As you can see, there are some nice trees in the background of this photo.   But there  is a whole lot of old and dead stuff in the way.   Pretty much like my closet, if you exchange the trees for the clothing.  

As I went through my clothing, I found they fit in the following categories:

Just plain worn out:   things that were ripped or stained beyond repair, that I just could not let go of for some unknown reason.   I guess I was thinking that I might need them later.

Just did not fit:    things that were 3 sizes too small, that I essentially keep to torture myself into trying to fit into them again.   Keep in mind that fitting into these for me involves some major eating disorder behaviors.

Just didn't work:   those things that are just plain weird and won't work, or just don't look right.  They would need huge modifications or alterations before they could be worn, and maybe would still not work.

Things that fit me right now and look great, and make me feel beautiful:  these clothes fit me right now.   They are beautiful clothes that work.   They are not ripped or worn out.   They are not too small.   They work beautifully.

It took me most of the day to weed out my closet.   I was sore, hot and tired.  But now, I have a nicely organized closet full of things that I can use now, and things that make me feel good about myself.   The clothing all fits, and it is organized, so that I can see what I have, and find it when I need it.  It was a lot of work.   But it was worth it.  Here is a representation of my new closet:



This whole closet thing got me to thinking about my beliefs and coping skills.    My beliefs and coping skills seem to mirror my closet and my clothing.   They even fit in the same categories:


Just plain worn out:    These are belief systems or unhealthy coping skills that I have worn until they have just fallen apart, and I can't wear them anymore.   An example of this is thinking that I need to rescue other people, or become their caretaker.   I know now what things belong to me and what things belong to others.   I do not excessively feel the need to mother other people anymore. 

Just did not fit:  These are the belief systems that I used to wear a lot, but for a variety of reasons, I just can't get back into them anymore.   And example of this is hiding from my mental illness.   I no longer feel the need to be ashamed of my illness.    I refuse to apologize for having bipolar disorder.  Those ideas are just too tight for me now.   I can't even step back into those ideas, and I really don't want to.

Just didn't work:   These are the belief systems and unhealthy coping skills that take up valuable space in my life that just need to go.   Unlike my closet, I still have some of these hanging around.   On some level, I am still hoping that I can make them work somehow.   A stitch here, a cut there.  I am in the process of weeding this stuff out of my life.    It is a slow and difficult process.  An example of this would be binge eating, or just plain hating myself.   In the past, those beliefs and unhealthy coping skills probably protected me on some level.   But they really don't work for me now.   I am no longer a child in a chaotic life situation.   I am an adult.  Sometimes it is still hard to let go of these things.   I know they don't work for me now, but part of me still thinks that I can't throw them away.    This is still a work in progress for me, and I am making progress.

Things that fit me know, and look great and make me feel beautiful:    I am getting more and more of these belief systems and healthy coping skills.   They are replacing the other categories of beliefs in my 'wellness closet'.   They fit me right here, right now.  They meet me where I am.   When I 'wear' these beliefs and coping skills, they look great, and I really feel beautiful and content.    An example of these beliefs and skills would be DBT skills, mindfulness practice, curvy yoga, loving-kindness meditations, and journaling.   Also included in this list are things like exercise, intuitive eating, sewing, decorating, singing, dancing and reading.   These items are just like those bags of new clothing.   They are amazing gifts.   They fit me, and when I wear them, I feel beautiful.   They are replacing the worn out, ill fitting clothing in my life that just doesn't fit me anymore and just plain does not work for me.   Soon, I will not need to hang on to the beliefs and unhealthy coping behaviors that don't work.   I will be able to throw them away and replace them with a better fit.

And, just like with my real clothing and closet, this work takes time and it makes me feel tired and sore sometimes.   But, it is so worth it!

 
 

And now for a message from our life coach cats, and One Day at a time Mindfulness:

 

My mindfulness and life coach cat message are connected today.   Mindfulness does not only mean meditative acts.   Mindfulness can also mean using your 'wise mind' to gain perspective on your life.  It means living your life with intention.   Taking the space to figure out what you need.  Looking back on what you have learned.  Using cheerleading statements to change your negative thoughts.  Gaining insight on the meaning and purpose in your life.   It can even mean just taking the space that you need to give yourself just what you need.
 
 
 

Take time to reflect on your life today.

Do you have some old beliefs or unhealthy behaviors that you can get rid of?

Begin to replace your old and worn out thoughts and beliefs with new ideas and skills.  Get rid of all of the stuff that just doesn't work.    It will take great effort.  But it will pay off in the end!



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mind Training

As I have stated before on this blog, I am very interested in happiness.   I watch documentaries on it.  It fascinates me.  People can be happy in a variety of circumstances, including some that are pretty harsh.


I found this youtube Ted Talks video of Mattieu Ricard, a Tibetan Monk who discussed the habits of happiness.   He talks about meditation as mind training.   How, usually if we experience anger or obsession our mind goes back and back to whatever event and then the emotion keeps coming back and back again.    He talks about training our mind to the point where that emotion may still come back, but it leaves no trace, like a bird crossing the sky.

For me, DBT skills work this way.   I used to see my emotions as fact.   If I felt bad, then things were bad.   If I felt bad, sometimes I would feel guilty for my 'negative' feelings and push them aside in the hopes that they would just go away on their own.    And of course, they didn't.   They just grew larger.   

DBT has taught me that emotions are not facts.   They are emotions.   Most emotions will pass away in a few seconds if we do not feed them.   


I am just a beginner in using mindfulness or meditation to change my brain.    I certainly cannot meditate for long periods of time.   I don't fully understand all of the science in this youtube video.  But I do believe that this kind of 'zen' stuff can really change your life, and change it for the better.   I believe this because I see the evidence of it within myself.   I can handle things better.    I can deal with my illness better.   I feel more content with life overall.   I know that I can handle life.   I do not feel as afraid of life.  Watch this video and see what you think.   Do you think mind training might work for you?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Everything else can just wait until Tuesday

It has been far to long since I have posted anything!    School started back up this week and I needed to move my office at work, so the past two weeks have been just sort of an overwhelmingly fast paced blur of activity.
 
 

When life speeds up, I tend to speed up too.   

 The night before I moved my office at work, I had a difficult time falling asleep, even with my medication.   My medication usually knocks me completely out.   I had plenty of energy the next day to move the office, but I had a hard time catching my thoughts.   I felt rushed and a little confused.   The chaos of moving is a struggle for me.  Add to that the chaos of the first week of back to school for my child, and you have the perfect recipe for a nice little mania mixed with some anxiety for spice.
 
 
I found myself edging up that mania scale.    I have a hard time sleeping.   I have a lot of wonderful ideas.   I begin to want to create things.  I will often sign up for too many projects or committees.  I will want to begin purchasing things.   I will sometimes spend too much money.  I also notice some sensory issues when things speed up for me.   I have a lower tolerance for things being 'out of their place'.   Any kind of clutter is almost like someone is screaming at me.  Music can seem too loud and too fast.   I feel speeded up and confused, and my environment seems like the sensory equivalent of really rough sandpaper.  
 

It is weird.   It's like the world seems too much.    Like someone turned up some kind of cosmic volume knob on the entire world and everything seems louder and brighter.   Sometimes this effect is super cool and intoxicating.   Since I feel overwhelmed with all of the stuff I have to do right now, this effect is just super annoying.   I find myself wanting to snap at people.

 
To cope with this, and to give my body and mind a chance to calm down a little, I decided that I needed a break.    I am taking a nice long weekend.  I have also made myself check in on my bank account to keep in touch with financial reality.   It is easy to spend too much money when I feel like this.   I also am limiting the things that I will allow myself to do.   If I am not careful, I will do way to much, and just keep this manic momentum going.    It is hard to limit this, because I really am creative and can get a massive amount of things accomplished when I feel this way.   I feel a little chaotic, but I am damn happy about it.
 
But there is another side to all of this that gets really ugly in a hurry.   Mania must be limited.   It can go from 0 to 60 really quick.   It can devastate your life.    I am committed to never allowing that to happen to me again.  

 I do not want to lose my footing. 

 

 
 
So for this Labor Day weekend, I am focused on not really having much labor at all.   I need to just take time out to relax.   Meditate.   Maybe to not do anything.    So I am going to just be lazy and enjoy myself a little.   I need to get away from my never ending 'to do' list.   I need to break that list down into small 'bite-sized' chunks of chores.    But that can wait until Tuesday.    Today is mine to just 'be'.
 
 

And now for a message from our life coach cats:

 

 
Sometimes, you just gotta rest.  
 
 

One day at a time mindfulness:

For me right now, mindfulness means knowing that I am not in a good place for a lot of activity.   I need to slow down.    I need to rest.   My mind is moving too fast for me to meditate on just my breath.   I will have to count my breaths in order to stay focused enough to be still.   This is exceptionally difficult for me.    Today is my 'rest' day, but I have already rearranged my pantry and revamped my whole shopping list for the month.  Twice.    I had to stop myself.  Mindfulness in this situation is being aware of my mental state, and calming myself down to the point where I can stop and evaluate my actions.    I will allow myself to do a few things.  But that is it.   Then I am done.



 


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

End in sight.....



I am finally at that place where there is a light at the end of a long dark tunnel. The end is in sight.  Some of my struggles over the past month are beginning to resolve.   As with all things, they tend to pass into something else.   Hard times come and go and fun times come and go.   My mood shifts seem to come and go as well.

I was thinking tonight about how I have learned to deal with the changes in my life.  I guess I have learned to deal with them one day at a time.   It is easier to tackle one day of any situation than a month, year or lifetime of that situation.   Likewise, it is easier to deal with one day of depression or mania than it is to think "how am I going to live like this for the rest of my life?"  I try to take things in as small of a chunk as I can.  Just like that old saying about eating an elephant.   How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

My other trick is to tell my self that situations and moods change.  Some situations and moods are great and some are harder to deal with.   Neither lasts forever.   So while I am living through things one day at a time, I am also telling myself that this hard time or mood or hard time and hard mood will not last forever.   There will be an end.   This makes it easier for me to get through things.

I have also learned to have things to do.   I need to be busy.   If I am on the manic side of things, then I need to monitor how busy I am, but generally, I need to have something to do.  Working keeps me plenty busy, but on the weekends, if I am depressed or in a tough situation or both, I need to be sure that I do something.   The task that I pick isn't necessarily important, but I definitely need to get going or I will just stew in my depression all day.  All weekend.   Having something to do and continuing to do something, usually helps my mood to lift.   It gets easier to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

My mood is much better this week.   My situation is pretty much the same.   Some things are beginning to fall into place, and I know that the end of some uncomfortable things is in sight.   Other situations are still just ongoing.   They are situations that are difficult and uncomfortable for me.  I tend to think about them constantly, and when I try to focus on something else, I just keep going back to these things and pick them up again.    There are times I have to really work on just letting things go.    Being busy helps me to continue to let them go.   Even if I just let go for five minutes and don't continue to ruminate over things, it helps.   The next time I may be able to let go for six minutes, or ten.    Eventually, I begin to train myself to just let go of things.  This helps me to feel better and to get through difficult situations, and to stay healthier.

Most of the time, I still feel like I am walking uphill, through wind, water, mud and snow, with a 400 pound rock on my back, but I still make progress up my mountain.   After a while, there is an end.  Tough times change.  Moods change.   And so do I.  

And now for a message from our life coach cats:

 
There are things and situations that we can't change.
It is a whole lot easier to accept hard times if you can take them one bite at a time.
Know that these times will pass. 
Learn to let go.
 
 
 

One day at a time Mindfulness:

today I practiced mindfulness while exercising in the pool.   I thought about my body and the movements I was doing with my limbs.   I also thought about the feeling of the water on my skin, and the color of the water, as well as the smell of the water.   Then I focused on what I was doing and put my awareness on the sounds in the pool around me.   Many times I will use the 5 senses to put myself in the present moment.  This helps me to get out of my head and just relax.   Often, I will have to pull my focus back to the present using one of the 5 senses.  It helps me to keep track of the places my mind wants to wander to.   This raises my awareness of the things I am struggling to let go of in my life.    Mindfulness is easier for me when I am in contact with water.  Water is like magic for me.   Whether I am doing the dishes, swimming, showering or even sitting by a creek in the mountains, there is just something about water that helps me to connect with the now. What helps you to connect with the now?
 
 
 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Splintered



Ever have one of those days where you just feel broken, splintered and stretched too thin?  

 I've been feeling that way for many days now.   Not necessarily all in a row, but the feelings keep coming back and back.

I have a job that is stressful and amazing and rewarding and painful, all rolled in to one.  It can be a real challenge for me some days.   Yet, at the same time, I am growing from having this job.  I am immersed in mental health recovery.   I am learning how to develop skills and tools that help me and other people to cope with the challenges of living life with a mental illness.   I am also learning to strengthen my interpersonal skills, and I have struggled with this area of my life for a long time.  I am learning to stand up for myself and to set boundaries.  I needed to learn these skills and wellness tools, so that I could continue to grow as a person.  

Growth is amazing.   And painful.  And necessary.  And really, really painful.


Today,  am at a conference in a different town.   As I was driving here today, I questioned my job.   Times have been hard lately, and a bad day in the mental health work world can be a very bad day.  I sometimes have this feeling like I am falling off the edge of the world.  Like I have no idea where my life is going and that I am spiraling out of control, with no real purpose.  In the midst of this feeling I prayed or asked 'why am I here'.   'Do I really need to be doing this job?  Do I really belong in the mental health world?  Will I ever make a difference, or a change?'

I just sort of left that thought there, and went on driving and going about my day.  For me, when I have a crisis of faith in life, or myself, or just whatever, I usually get an affirmation.  That affirmation or answer can be 'get out' or 'stay right where you are'.   I had that affirmation today.    I know I am right where I need to be in my life.    Life can really be a challenge sometimes, for all of us.   If you have mental health challenges as well, it can get pretty darn interesting sometimes.  We all have those days where we feel splintered.   We all have days when we feel like we are just running full speed ahead towards a cliff.  I am just grateful that those days are not constant.   I am grateful that those days have an end.  When they come, I am grateful that I am learning the skills to deal with them.

Change and Growth are painful, and will probably always be hard for me.  I do struggle.   The difference now is that I don't give up.  I don't fear these times as much anymore.  I feel better prepared to deal with them.   I feel like I have worked on the skills to weather these splintering times, and I am learning how to increase the chances that I have amazing and healing times to balance out the hard times.  Life will always provide us with challenges.   My job provides me with plenty of challenges, and it also provides me with truly rich and meaningful experiences, as well as stellar coping skills.   Splinters are on one side, and beauty is on the other.   I just need to keep trying to keep my balance, and accept that the splinters and beauty of life and work are normal.  I also know that I can handle both the splinters and the beauty.  

And now for a message from our life coach cats:

 


 
Life can be full of times that leave you feeling splintered.
You can handle these times.
Keep Going.  This won't last forever.
 
 
 

One day at a time mindfulness:

Today for my mindfulness activity I did a couple of different things.  During my conference I really tried to focus on keeping my thoughts in the present moment and to 'one-mindfully' focus on the information and the tasks before me.   This helped me to get out of all of the emotions swirling around in my head from the situations in my life.
 
I also did a progressive relaxation for my body, along with some meditation focused on my breath.  My mind is all over the place tonight, so I needed to count my in and out breaths until I could just focus on the breath.    This helped me to relax.  When times are turbulent for me, or if I have been triggered by events in my life, I need this space to just be.   It helps me to deal in fact more than emotions, and it just helps me to function better in general.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

that moment when things you hate actually work for you


I've never been a fan of charting my moods.   It just hasn't worked much for me.   When my bipolar was new, and more turbulent, it was hard for me to focus enough on life, not to mention my moods.   I couldn't make sense of anything.  I couldn't keep track of things.


That was a long time ago, and I have learned a great deal about my illness since then.   I also have medication that works well for me, and that makes a huge difference.  My workplace has a new online self help portal about depression and anxiety.   My boss asked me to use this self help portal myself, so that I would be able to discuss it with people at my agency.

When I saw the dreaded 'mood chart' my mind began to close off.   But this one was slightly different.   This one is more of a mood and activity chart.    In this self help portal, they described it as a way to be 'mindful' about how we live our lives.   They explained that often we are on 'auto-pilot' when it comes to the day to day of our lives.   We do many things without thinking about them.   We are usually thinking about other stuff.   The theory behind this activity and mood chart is to make note of your activities throughout one week, to start.   You write down all of your activities for the day, and then you make note of your mood and the intensity of your mood.   The particular self help portal that my workplace uses has an online version of this chart, so that it is easy to just put in your activities and your moods.

Still, I was skeptical.    I have been 'well' for many years.   I function well with bipolar.   I have learned how to manage with my illness.   I don't need a mood tracker.   I don't need to track my activities, because I work and I am out there in life.  At least, that is what I told myself.
But the truth is, depression still gets to me.

I have been depressed now for about 3 weeks.    It is mild depression.   And that is one of the world's biggest oxymoronic phrases.  Mild depression.    Even mild depression can kick your ass.   At least, it kicks mine.   Repeatedly.

Now when I say I am well and that I live and function well with depression or mania, I mean that I have learned to tolerate it.   I still hate it, especially depression, and I suffer a lot while I deal with it.   It makes everything seem so much harder.    I muddle through it and have learned some tricks to alleviate it somewhat.   But I had not noticed that I still do things that feed my depression.   I was unaware of the 'auto-pilot' effect of my day to day activities and how that ties into depression.

I had to do the mood/activity tracker to continue with the modules in the self-help portal I am using for work.   I want to do all of the modules and to really use them in my life.  I don't feel like I can tell people to try something that I am not willing to try and use for myself.   So, I began to use the stupid tracker just to get past it so that I could go on to other things, telling myself that 'not all wellness tools will be your cup of tea.'

Imagine my surprise when it actually worked for me.    Here is a visual of the exact moment to help you imagine it:


 
 
So, I actually could see what parts of my life sort of feed my depression and keep it good and strong, or at least foster it along.    I think of it like allergens in the air.   They get your nose and sinuses all aggravated and swollen so that bacteria can move in and create a nasty little sinus infection.    This is the same way that the things we do can feed into depression.    We do things without thinking that aggravate us and make certain parts of us 'swell' with negativity.   That opens the door for the disease portion to move on it to the aggravated area.  Depression in this story is the same as the bacteria in the sinus infection.
 
The mood/activity tracker just sort of helped me to identify the 'allergens' in my environment.   So, I got to get a new perspective on the things I do that help my illness along.  I also got some insight into activities that make my illness diminish.   So now my goal is to increase the positive mood inducing activities and decrease the aggravating or negative ones.
 
Never thought I would ever say this but Hooray for the Mood/Activity Tracker!  But part of me still hates to track things.   I just do.  
 

But it sure did work.   It gave me a new perspective and increased my awareness.  Go figure!

 
 
 

And now for a message from our life coach cats:

 

Don't close yourself off from trying new things, or even old things.  They may surprise you, and actually work.   You might even learn something new or useful.

Even if you hate every moment of it, it is still important to try!