Strength in Seeking Help

I recently had an interaction on the internet with a person who is a casual acquaintance on a website we both happen to be members of. I do not know her in real life, and it’s highly unlikely that I ever will.

She posted a story that clearly demonstrated she’s living with a great deal of unresolved issues from a broken marriage. I left a one-sentence comment that she could resolve these old ghosts by seeking help through psychotherapy. Her reaction was not a complete surprise, but it demonstrates a wider problem in our world.

She was angry at my suggestion. She was incensed that I thought she had a problem that needed help. To her, living with old wounds is simply a part of life, and using psychotherapy is a weakness. She is living with a great deal of stigma against mental health difficulties as  evidenced by this reaction. In a world where mental health is stigma-free, she would not be defensive. Rejecting psychotherapy shows internal stigma against openly recognizing the value in receiving help to overcome mental issues.

The truth is it requires great strength to admit the problem exists and then to reach out for help. It requires courage, too. I have to recognize that I have something inside me that needs resolution, and I can best resolve it with outside help. In our world that devalues seeking help for mental health instead of simply pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, the act of reaching out for help is a sign of strength and maturity.

Harboring unresolved issues about past pain is weakness. It also shows a lack of self-worth. If we truly value ourselves highly, we will take any necessary step to heal ourselves. If we do not believe ourselves worthy of good mental health, we will ignore our cries for help. We will tell ourselves we deserve to continue to hurt.

I can assure all who care to listen that it is possible to be free of pain from the past. It is possible to resolve old issues and live free and clear. It is possible to rid ourselves of our baggage. It is possible to heal our demons.

I know it’s possible, because I did it. If you search the old posts on this blog, you will see that I was mired in pain. I can state honestly today, that I am free of that old pain. I did the work necessary to heal. It was hard work, and it required courage to be open and vulnerable. Now when I feel pain, I have the tools necessary to heal it right away. I don’t let it become old. I keep myself free. I breathe clearly each day.

If you have old pain from the past, recognize it, and allow yourself to be brave enough to seek help.

Healing Demons

I have now seen a meme twice. A meme is a viral phenomenon that spreads an idea from person to person in a given population. It’s also the slang term used to describe a trite saying usually accompanied by a picture on the internet.

This particular meme says, “We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”

I can happily report that we can heal them. We do not have to simply learn to tolerate their rude behavior as they live downstairs. It is possible to completely heal them, releasing ourselves from their power. Why can I say this? Because I healed mine.

It’s popular to talk about our baggage, the stuff we carry with us from the past that weighs us down. Baggage is something we talk about with a therapist. In the early days of going to AA, I heard a lot about baggage, and I realized that I don’t simply have baggage. I had a freight train.

Indeed I did. I had so much junk attached to myself on many different subjects: homosexuality, religion, being an American male from the South, parental expectations, etc. The list is very long.

I started therapy when I was 23. The first big item I tackled was anger. It may surprise you to learn that I actually had to teach myself how to be angry. I remember it quite well. I had to keep a small notepad in my pocket and write down every time I felt angry. It took many months before I was able to recognize my real anger. I suppressed it before. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be angry. It was an enormously unhealthy way to live.

I haven’t thought about that episode in my attempts to unpack my freight train in a very long time. My anger is healthy now. I feel it. If necessary, I act on it. I let it pass. It flows like it’s supposed to.

That is a perfect example of healing a demon, and that’s what bugs me about that meme. Saying that the best we can hope for is to merely live above them does us all a disservice. We can indeed heal them. We can completely disarm them and free ourselves from their grip.

I have healed many demons. I don’t live above anything unpleasant.

I am free!

I am very happy to be a gay man now, but I used to loathe myself. I healed the loathing. I did the necessary self-care that led to a very happy realization that I like being gay. I live completely out now. It was a difficult journey fraught with upset, but I did it. I did it!

I am free!

If you think you have pain that can only be tolerated and never healed, you are wrong. If I can heal the trauma of growing up gay in a time and place that abhorred it, you can heal, too. You can. I promise.

The question becomes how to start. Therapy worked for me. I know that it works for a great many people, because they’ve told me it works. It’s also important to do some work on our own.

Meditation is an amazing habit to form. It teaches us to find our calm center. We each have one. Most of us need help to find it. Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Sit quietly doing nothing. Don’t sit and rock. Don’t sit and drink water. Sit. Just sit. Let your mind wander, and look for the spaces between the wandering thoughts. Try to enlarge those spaces in between. Don’t judge yourself as your mind wanders. Just watch it.

Exercise is important for me, too. I powerwalk. It’s something I enjoy, and it only requires good shoes. It doesn’t take any other special equipment. Think about what you enjoy, and do it.

There are many ways we each can begin the journey of healing. What do you want to look like after you have healed? Think about it, and think about the ways you want to get to that place. Find the help you need, and use it.

You can be free, too. I promise.

Routine

Last weekend, I had a houseguest. An old friend from the city I used to live in needed a short break from her surroundings, so I spoke up and invited her to come over for a weekend. She jumped at the chance.

We had fun. We ate some very good food at a number of good restaurants I know around the city. We visited a famous site where she’d never been and took a tour. I’d been to this site only once before quite a few years ago, so I was delighted to get to go again. We also went to the mall and walked around the shops. We happened across a high-end chocolatier, and I splurged on some very good chocolates. We also got to spend time with a mutual friend, and that was delightful.

I did my laundry on a day that I don’t normally do that chore. I skipped cutting my hair on Saturday morning. I also didn’t go for my regular powerwalk.

On Sunday afternoon, I drove my friend back to the airport and hugged her goodbye. I then drove home and stayed inside for the rest of the day. I played on the internet and read a book and relaxed.

Monday, I was oddly distracted all day. It was hard to concentrate on work, and my colleague asked if I was feeling okay.

Then it struck me that I was irritable. I wasn’t feeling completely normal. I felt a bit off kilter, if that makes sense.

As I was realizing this, the reason flashed across my mind. My routine had been completely upset over the weekend. I didn’t get to do anything at my normal times.

I’ve understood this before. Routine is very important to individuals with mental illness. It’s a way we self-manage our illnesses. By performing the same tasks in the same way over and over, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the time is passing calmly. It’s a way to maintain equilibrium.

It has taken me a few days, but I now feel like I’m back to my old self again. My routine is in place, and my equilibrium has returned.

I am grateful for this reminder. I am also grateful I could enjoy the weekend. It felt wonderful to participate in activities that enriched my life. I loved seeing my old friend again. Even though my routine was discarded for a few days, I was able to cope, and then I regained my routine shortly after and got back to my comfortable feelings.

How Do I Tell My Story?

In the past few months, I have been reminiscing about my recovery. It’s astounding! Since I’ve started writing in this blog again, I’ve been reading some of my old entries. My recovery is astonishing! I have seen dark places. I have been to the edge of the abyss, and I have looked in and escaped.

What seems clear to me today is that recovery is for everyone! Absolutely everyone can recover. Each of our recoveries will have its own identity. They will each be unique, but we can each recover. Everyone can recover.

The patient in seclusion in a psychiatric ward can recover. The adolescent experiencing the beginning of symptoms can recover. The young adult just starting independent life who is struck by psychosis can recover.

Recovery is for everyone!

I want to share my story. It is the most valuable thing I have, and perhaps hearing it, some person may find a flicker of hope to ignite their own journey to recovery.

This is the point where I am dumbfounded. I don’t know how to start telling my story. When I try to think of ways to start, I draw a complete blank.

Do I start by trying to write a book? Do I try to write a workbook incorporating ideas that helped me? Do I use a blog?

Not only do I not know what vehicle to use to spread my story, but I also don’t know exactly what parts of my story need to be told. Basically, it’s not a complex story. I was sick, and I got help. I could list the things that helped me. I could conceivably do that in one short magazine article, but I don’t think that would do the subject justice.

I survived the darkness. I want people to feel that. I want them to understand that I know the darkness intimately.

I want them to feel the steps I took along the way in early recovery. I want them to live the joy I had when my negative inner voice went silent. I want them to hear the enthusiasm of teaching my peers about recovery.

When I sit and begin to imagine the outline, I go blank. I don’t know where to start.

I want a companion to work with me on this journey of telling my story. Someone who knows something about storytelling. I need a coach and mentor. I want someone to say, “Start here.”

Perhaps s/he’ll come. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing here. I’m glad you’re reading along with me.

Thank you.

Incidentally, this blog is 7 years old today. It’s kind of a nice milestone. I was silent for 2 years when I was busy changing my life, but I never thought of erasing the blog. I kept it safe and open for all to find. It’s fun.

Invisibility

I have a job now. I’ve been working for about a year and a half. There are two of us in the office I work in, and we are both persons with lived experience with mental illness.

I lived on disability for twelve years. It was a long time, and some days were very difficult. It is very difficult to describe, but for those twelve years, I was invisible as far as society was concerned. I was not a contributor.

Make no mistake. I was not idle for those twelve years. I volunteered at the library’s literacy center teaching English as a Second Language. I was very active in the community theatre group where I lived. I even served on the group’s board of directors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m male, but since I was not being paid for this work, it was not highly valued.

I was invisible.

One payday not long after I started working again, I was holding my paystub, and my colleague in the office, the other person with lived experience, said, “It feels good to be paid, doesn’t it?” I quickly and loudly agreed. It felt quite amazing actually. I appreciated it like I’d never done before.

Today was my colleague’s birthday, and I arranged an office party for him with all the other people from the larger office. It was a pot luck, and everyone gladly brought food to share. It was a real feast. We had much too much food. The office refrigerator is bulging at the seams with all the leftovers.

A birthday party hardly seems like a special thing. On a grand scale, it is very small. Still, I was near tears. All these people were celebrating with a person with mental illness. There he was; I was right next to him. We weren’t invisible. We were considered valuable members of the group.

It’s a very big deal.

Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos

It’s no secret that there is a great deal of turmoil in the world at present. There are large protests in the US. Many countries in Europe are experiencing difficulties related to the large numbers of refugees coming in. I don’t know about yours, but my news is full of stories of upheaval and tumult.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when the headlines are shouting about mayhem. Those of us with mental illness know the importance of remaining calm and maintaining equilibrium.

Here’s my plan.

First, I remember the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a great deal in the world that I cannot change, and it is important for me to recognize where I can have an effect and where I need to release. For example, I have a vote, but I only have one vote. It is important for me to exercise my choice by voting, but I must release the outcome since my single vote will not determine any winners. I am one voice in a sea of many. I do my part and release the rest.

Second, I simply do not read all of the news. I pick and choose. I have a few topics that I am passionate about, so I read that news. I skip over the rest. As a solitary individual, there is little I can do to affect the vast majority of situations. I choose to invest my energy in only a couple of major issues. I keep myself basically informed of some of the other major issues in the news, but I simply skip over a great deal. I’m not hiding from the news. I’m editing my consumption. I act this way to maintain my sense of inner peace. I had a friend who tried to stay abreast of all the news a few months ago, and it had a disastrous affect on her mind. She was quickly overwhelmed. I protect my personal calm by limiting what I ingest from the news.

Next, I give a small amount of money to causes that I believe in. I have limited money at my disposal. I cannot give great sums to every worthy cause, so I have chosen a few that I feel the most strongly about, and I donate there. It makes me feel good that I’m helping organizations who are battling for ideas that I believe in. Helping these organizations makes me feel like I’m a part of the fight, and in actuality, I am. I am very active in theatre in my city, so I support those organizations that bring live theatre to brighten our lives. Giving them small donations helps me feel good.

Finally, I take care of myself. This is my greatest contribution to making the planet a better place for all of us. When I concentrate on being the best possible me that I can, I know that my little bit of humanity is running smoothly. Honestly, isn’t that a great gift to give the world? I like being me, and I like making me a happy member of the world. I do it by living in recovery. I have a few pillars of my recovery that I work diligently to maintain: medication, meditation, exercise, therapy, and sleep.

I am lucky in that medicine works for me, so I take my medicine as prescribed. I have friends in recovery who maintain themselves other ways than medicine.

I am also an avid meditator. I have a set routine that includes a period of meditation, and I do it every morning without fail. Meditation gives me a calm center to cling to. When I feel emotions that encroach on my calm, I know I can return to the even feelings by just doing some simple breathing techniques.

Exercise is an important part of my recovery, too. I enjoy powerwalking, so I go out for a vigorous walk 4 mornings every week. I feel exhilarated each time. It’s such a joy!

I believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been involved with it for 30 years. I have a therapist that I tell absolutely everything to. I tell him about all the little things in my life that arise, and we talk about how they make me feel. I’ve discovered a lot of people don’t really understand the nature of a therapeutic relationship. A therapist is not like a medical doctor who assesses symptoms and administers a cure. Therapists cure no one. Instead, they listen to my situations, and then they guide me through a discussion, until I settle on my own cure. In essence, a therapist is a guide while I cure myself.

Finally, sleep is an amazing balm for me. I am adamant that I get adequate and high quality sleep every night. It resets all my inner world, and I can start each day fresh.

These things work for me. I hope you can find the pillars of your own recovery.

Thank you for your patience

I am grateful today for your patience and your continued support of this blog while I’ve been away living life. I am grateful today I have a life to live. I have indeed come very far from the inception of this blog.

I have an amazing life today. Let me tell you about the changes since the last time I wrote here more than two years ago.

The most important change has two parts: I got a job, and I moved. I was living on disability in a small town, and I gained a great deal of strength from the quiet. Today, I live in a city, and I work. These are enormous changes in my life. They would not have been possible if I had not had a solid recovery. There are many people who helped me with my recovery. Each one of them is precious to me.

I am now working in the mental health field training my peers to be Certified Peer Specialists. It is an honor to watch a group of my peers as they learn about the aspects of recovery and how to help their peers. It is pure pleasure to hear them report about the work they are doing one-on-one with our peers.

I have my own apartment! I got very lucky when I moved. There was an opening in a building where a friend had moved a few years prior, and they accepted me. It’s wonderful to have friendly neighbors that I know by name.

I bought a car! I got very lucky and found a good, used car that gets superb gas mileage.

Parking is by permit where I work, and that’s based on seniority, so needless to say, I do not have parking. I take the bus to work. It’s honestly a pleasure. I get on the bus near my apartment. I’m always able to find a seat where I can pull out my Kindle and read or scroll through my phone. I have conversations with my seatmates, too. It’s usually very quiet, though. About 20 minutes later, I hop off in front of my building.

When I moved, one of my first orders of business was to get the pieces of my support network in place. I asked some knowledgeable people about psychiatrists and psychologists. The next thing I knew I had appointments with some very good caregivers.

I rely on my caregivers a great deal. I count on them to help me remain stable. My recovery is the most important thing I have in life. I tell people who ask that my recovery has five pillars holding it up: medication, meditation, therapy, exercise, and sleep.

I’m lucky. Medication actually works for me with only a few side effects. In my work, I have had the pleasure of getting to know peers for whom medication does not work. They maintain stability using other means. Most have a WRAP. Some are close to their pets. Some use talk-therapy; some don’t. It’s up to each individual to determine what works best for themselves.

I meditate every morning. It’s not long: 10 to 30 minutes. It varies. Meditation gives me a few minutes of calmness to start my day. It gives me a calm core that I can go back to at any time I feel myself straying too far one way or the other.

I’ve been in therapy for 30 years. I swear by it. It is so valuable to have a disinterested third party to tell all my thoughts to. That person guides me to decide for myself what I think about my many situations. My therapist is a guide. He is not a director. I am in the driver’s seat.

I powerwalk. I used to go out every morning, but I had a hurt foot that prevented that. I’m starting again, and I’m walking 3 mornings each week. It feels so good to move and breathe deeply. I love it.

Sleep is very important to me. I went through a period of sleep difficulties for almost a year that was quite painful. I’ve found a working solution that I’m happy with that does not involve sleeping pills. A good night’s sleep sets me up for success the next day. Sleep resets all my circuits.

There are other parts to my recovery that are important. They are so imbedded in me now that I give little thought to them. I’m sober. It’s been seventeen years since I last drank any alcohol. I have a WRAP. I am fully committed to staying in the “what I’m like when I’m well” place. I eat good food. I eat very little processed sugar. I never drink soda. I am sure my good diet aids my recovery.

I am glad you still want to read my blog. I will be writing in it again. Thank you.