Reflections on an Imperfect Time

peace

I am currently in a place I never thought I would be.  I did not believe in the recovery model for mental illness even a few months ago, nevertheless thought I would be in a place in my life where the “recovery” stage would be very real and tangible in my day-to-day existence.

I never thought I would have any extended time of peace, and I never thought I would define peace as the picture to the left does:  “it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

I am there, hallelujah, amen, thank you.  There is chaos all around me, but my heart is calm, it is steady, it is beating strong.  All of those thoughts I had of giving up, have vanished.  Those thoughts of giving up that I had almost constantly through every day of the last several years of my life, the ones I didn’t *know how* to get rid of, the ones that kept me cycling through the hospital and the crisis residence and at the mercy of people (supposedly) saner than I on the other end of a phone line…gone.

I have been through months of adversity without losing my steadiness, and there are even more big changes to come.  I am ready.  I know how to climb the mountain and I am familiar with the path and the twists and turns, and I know it will be hard as Hell and that the Devil himself may stand in my way, but I know within myself that I am ready for this adventure.

selfish

QoB is moving away, and my contact with her is sure to greatly decrease.  I am learning that my mom is not the young person she used to be, and that it is time for her to turn her thoughts and her activities and her energies into herself, her new relationship, and into being a cherished Abuela.

It is hard to let her go, to stop calling her so often, to not count on her for every little thing, to really *grow up* here at age 34.  I have had my mom by my side my whole life, she has gone to bat for me countless times, and now, I need to go to bat for myself and count on LarBear to be my touchstone.  This doesn’t mean the relationship I have with her will be any less special, it just means that it is time for me to learn to count on other people.

I *DO* have other people I can count on in this life, and she deserves all the happiness available to her, and if that happiness is retirement and open prairies and big blue skies, then I wish all that for her and more.  There is such a thing called a telephone, and it isn’t like I will never ever see her.  It will just be less.  It is only within the last month, I think, that I would ever have been able to accept this for what it is.

With QoB moving away, retiring from the life here, comes the need for LarBear and I to move.  Physically move, that is, into a new home.  Of course, this creates stress and upset and all of the above, but we need to start living within our very own means, and know that we can still be okay.  We don’t have a terrible income, and it is enough that we will be able to find a nice-enough place to live.  Of that, I have no doubt.  I only wish the process were speedier, more certain, less of a time-suck.  I am ready to find the place and get the stuff moved and BE THERE.

what everyone is doing

The part of the recovery model I am most focused on now, which is also part of DBT, is that I am building A LIFE WORTH LIVING.  The past several years, I have been eking by, and I’m done with that.  I do not want to define myself by my mental illness, and I don’t want others to identify me that way, either.  I am a strong woman and I have a good man by my side, and I honestly feel I can tackle whatever is around me, that needs tackling.

I have even more support outside of my relationship with LarBear, whether it is the constant support of my mental health center contacts, or my Dad, or the Big Dawg.  I have places to turn to.  More than anything, I want LarBear and I to build a beautiful life together, and we are well in the process of doing that.

I don’t want to be “the crazy one” forever, and I tire of being looked at that way by family, acquaintances, the like.  I believe that I am even *more* sane and well-balanced than the average bear, because I am insightful into my life and I *do* examine my own thoughts and behaviors and I also spend great gobs of time practicing DBT and going to therapy and the like.  Practicing my skills isn’t something that anyone should look down on a person for.  Chances are, some of the skills could work for you, or for you, or for my mom or for LarBear or any number of people.

I have more skills in my toolbox than most people, and I think that is wherein the true advantage lies.  I have those skills and I am in touch with different things that help me to feel better, such as writing and making jewelry, and I do not let a single day pass in which I do not create something, anything.  It is so very important — not the product, but the process.  It doesn’t matter if you try a new recipe or build a Lego village or paint a picture…the creativity that dwells within us, heals us, and there is a multitude of proof or evidence out there that healing can happen, no matter how desperate you feel your situation is.  If I can do this, you sure can, too.

live beautifully

Denial, DBT Skills, and the Onset of a Non-Typical Summer Vacation

dog happier

Without planning and without, really, even a second thought, I placed myself on summer vacation a few weeks ago.  I had been putting a lot of time and energy into DBT and using the skills, and I was getting frustrated with the other participants in my group.  It was (is) chock-full of people who don’t do their homework, who don’t complete their diary cards, and who are disruptive at any chance.

One of the women frequently gets angry and storms out, never to come back.  Why she is allowed to do that over and over and over, I do not know.  We DID all sign a contract that DID put some limitations on maladaptive behaviors (or therapy-avoiding behaviors, in this case).  While the storming out is, at best, quite disruptive and unsettling, it is mostly just annoying to me that this person walks out instead of using skills which she clearly should have something of a grasp on, one year into the program.  I mean, even a limited grasp, I would say.

But, don’tcha know, DBT is all about not being judgmental and meeting people where they are, and it is not I that am leading the group (although I have had enough DBT I could probably give a fairly good whack at it, and have already been told I have enough knowledge and experience to be a peer leader).  I decided that, while I have  mostly been focusing on distress tolerance and floating with emotion (rather than fighting), and doing urge surfing, I need now to focus on nonjudgemental stance.  That means focusing on not being judgmental of other people and, even trickier, not being judgmental of MYSELF.  Let’s just say it has not been an easy row to hoe.

My life outside of DBT has offered up plenty of opportunities for me to be harsh and critical and judgmental, as well as plenty of opportunities to leave me in complete hysterics for days on end.  I am happy to say that I have not succumed (much) to said hysterics, and am only indulging myself in small amounts of FTFO (otherwise known as “freaking the fuck out”).

I am allowing myself to ask LarBear and my dad for help, and I have been using interpersonal skills from DBT to get my needs met as far as setting boundaries and asking for what I want and need from pretty much any relationship I have at the moment.  It works, and if you don’t use it, you lose it, with the latter part of that being so very true, and the reason I always find myself back in formal DBT groups every few years.

Many a boulder of big news will roll down the proverbial hill in the next year or so, I would say.  Most of it is good, and the rest can best be classified as “unknown” for others, but neutral for me.  Because I have so many wonderful family members that read, I can’t go into too much detail at this very moment, but big changes are coming to my life, and so I find that I am using the start of my own “summer vacation” to just chill out a little bit.

You know, enjoy the good things in life and flat-out pretend that the bad are not happening.  Sometimes a little denial is all you need to get yourself through a day peacefully, and while it isn’t necessarily a coping skill that one should employ on an every-moment basis, it sure does make me more tolerable to be around and also keep me from hyperventilating about all of the stuff running around in my mind.

How a Day-Planner Keeps Saving My Behind

That might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s true.  This past winter, I was in the midst of a terrible depression.  I was unmotivated.  I couldn’t make myself do anything — no household chores, not visiting anyone, I could barely go to work.  I had the most atrocious therapist at the time, but she did finally hear me as I tried to tell her how bad things were getting, and she put me into a group at the local mental health center.

I don’t recall the name of the group, but for all intents and purposes it was a DBT group, because it was based on the DBT idea of “building structure.”  Building structure is the idea that, by putting tasks and events into your life, you can improve the quality of your life by things seeming less stressful, less depressing, and you isolate less.

With bipolar disorder (as with many other disorders), having a routine is important.  As I have mentioned before, getting out of my routine or not having enough things lined up to do can really get me out of whack.  The DBT-ish program at the mental health center was intended to do just that.

It started out very simply.  Week one, you take a grid that you label the day at the top, and it goes from 12:00AM — 12:00AM.  The first class, you simply write in the things that you did that day.  As the classes progress, you begin to pick out goals and insert them into your schedule.  For example, one of your goals might be to knit more often, so you would write “knit” at 3:00PM for the next day.

There was and is no punishment for not meeting your daily goals.  Sometimes you have to cross things out and put them at another time or another day.  The important thing is that you just keep working on inserting goals, events, appointments, and daily activities into your schedule.

I did not initially think this class was going to be helpful for me, but it turned out that it really was.  I bought the cutest little (PINK!) day planner for $3 off Amazon, and I each night, I would write down my goals for the next day.  As the next day went on, I would check things off that I had accomplished, or move things around, or even add things to the list that I hadn’t anticipated doing.

It became a routine for me.  A part of my evening routine, writing and checking and reminding myself of things.  It felt really good to check things off and it felt really good to write things down, knowing I had the ABILITY to get these things done, because I had done it before.  When we are depressed, we question our ABILITY to do almost anything.  With this system, you had already proven to yourself that you could.

As the class ended, I was back to feeling like the old Rosa.  The happy Rosa.  The goal-oriented Rosa.  And I wasn’t missing any appointments, either, with the  help of my planner, which is just another side-benefit of this exercise.

After DSB and I called it quits, the day-planner got moved here and there, and now it’s sitting in my desk.  Having felt quite unproductive (with good reason) for the last six weeks, I think it’s time to pull it out and start the exercise again.  Building structure isn’t just for people with mental health issues — it’s for everyone.  Everyone can learn and make gains with this skill.

The planner is out of the drawer and so far I have written laundry, clean kitchen, blog, and have ice cream with Dad.  What would you write down for tomorrow?

Dusting Off Old Skills

So happy today that it’s the weekend.  This week almost killed me off, between being sick from a new medication and having major random mood swings.  I decided to stop taking the medicine and actually slept better without it than with it.  Oh, and no more vomiting or stomach pains, a huge plus. 

I think the mood swings are something I have to just be mindful of and let pass.  I can quickly swing from devastated to joyful to my version of normal.  If I can just make fewer pit stops in the desert of depression, all will be good.  I know what I need to do to make that happen, a lot of it hinging on being effective  — doing what works without fighting fighting fighting. 

I once had a therapist who said:

Being depressed is like being in the middle of the ocean without a lifeboat.  If you struggle, you drown.  If you float, you live.

The whole idea of DBT mindfulness, letting thoughts and emotions flow over you, floating with them, noticing and not judging, always noticing, never judging…it really works, when you remember to practice it.  I tried to start a new meditation series a few weeks ago that my therapist had recommended and I absolutely hated it.  Hated the voice, hated the words.  I tried to roll with it for a little while, but I just couldn’t take it and it wasn’t getting any better.

So I’m going back, have been going back within the last day or two to what I know to be effective — listening to certain music albums, blogging, sitting on my back porch drinking coffee, saying a loving-kindness meditation to forgive and forget.  Practicing loving myself and not judging myself.  It’s all those little things that make my life enjoyable.

A piece that really calms me…

The Fear You Won’t Fall, Joshua Radin