Seeing a Sleep Psychologist

Sleep is a very important part of my mental health recovery, and I’ve been having trouble getting good quality sleep for a few years. I spoke to my psychiatrist about it, and he referred me to a sleep doctor. I went to see her, but I don’t have any of the symptoms of disrupted sleep due to a physical problem. She referred me to a sleep psychologist.

I saw that person last Saturday. We talked about the cycles of sleep, and how my anxiety may disrupt good quality sleep. She gave me a good breathing technique for alleviating my anxiety. She had me place a hand on my upper chest and one on my belly. I discovered the hand on my upper chest was rising and falling with each breath, meaning I was anxious. When we’re anxious, we take shallow breaths. It’s at these times, we should consciously breathe from our bellies and get more oxygen into our bodies.

The sleep psychologist also gave me a sleep diary to keep for two weeks. I’m writing down when I drink anything with caffeine, when I take any medicine, and when I get exercise, as well as noting when I sleep.

All this feels good. I feel like I’m doing something good for my health.

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Healing Anxiety

I live with a lot of anxiety. It’s coming to the surface now, because I’m uncovering it in therapy. It hurts now, but I know that it can be healed. I’ve healed other pain in therapy, so this can be healed, too.

Anxiety is a way of acknowledging that there is something amiss. It’s often telling us that we’re facing a lack of appropriate interaction with people who are close to us or who were close to us in the past. It can be a lack of stable love, abandonment of some kind, or actual abuse. When these things occurred to us as children, we don’t have the ability to cope well, so we create coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy in the long run. It can manifest in many ways like drinking or eating excessively, overworking, oversleeping, or so many more possibilities.

The unhealthy coping mechanisms may work for many years, but eventually they fail, and we have to find effective means to heal the underlying pain. I drank excessively for many years, but that stopped calming the pain after a while, and I had to face the pain and do the work to heal it.

As adults we can choose to heal the pain we have with healthy means. I use meditation and exercise. There are many more ways too. There are hobbies like gardening or knitting. Anything that can add serenity can work to help soothe the pain from the past.

I was very anxious yesterday about some things, and I did a good job of soothing myself. Writing that is one of the things I’m working on: acknowledging that I’m really doing a pretty good job at this thing called life. I have a nice apartment and car. I have a good job. Most importantly, I have a group of good friends, and I’m dating a good man.

Future Forward

Today feels good. I’m thinking about the future. That’s a really good sign. Instead of ruminating about issues that I’m experiencing today, I’m dreaming about good things I hope are coming. This is a change of perception for me.

I’m not fixated on any present problem. I have hope.

I don’t think this happened overnight. I think this is the result of many years of practicing some simple ways of making each day a little better.

Those things I practice are seeing my doctor regularly and taking the medicine he prescribes, meditating on a daily basis, talking openly about all areas of my life to a therapist, eating food that is good for me, getting good sleep, and exercising regularly.

To put it simply:

Medicine.

Meditation.

Therapy.

Diet.

Sleep.

Exercise.

I’ve paid attention to these things for many years, and the result is that I have fewer days when I don’t feel good due to mental health. I had a bad day Wednesday, but in the middle of it, I concentrated on the tools, because it’s become a habit. That habit saw me through, and Thursday I felt completely better. Today I’m back to dreaming about good things in the future.

My habits started with a desire to feel better. Years ago, I was depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. I searched for ways to rise from that malaise, and that led to habits that help me feel good about myself and my life. At the time I didn’t know I was forming good habits. It just happened on its own.

It Works!

With a sigh of relief, I can say the tools for getting back into a better frame of mind work. Yesterday, I was struggling, as I wrote. It was not a good day at all. I was stressed and not dealing with it well at all. I used the tools that I know work. I meditated early and went for a good speed walk to get my self moving. I went to the cathedral down the street for a break and for my lunch break. I was able to meditate very briefly once, but the rest of the time I just sat. I made an extra appointment to see my therapist, and luckily he had an opening in the late afternoon.

Before that session, I chatted with my best friend about my turmoil. I could easily say that I understood the cause of my discontent was in me. I knew it was. I’ve been doing all this too long to try to blame it on something around me. An AA text The 12 and 12 states it correctly: whenever we are disturbed no matter what the cause, the problem lies in us.

I really was disturbed. My negative self-talk was working overtime. The voice in my head was saying I’d ruined my life and I was worthless. I was feeling really bad.

A very important tool for me is chatting with my best friend. He’s smart about these things. I was able to tell him that I knew I was the source of all the discord inside, and he invited me to look at all the good ways I was using my tools to feel better. He was absolutely right. I was doing a lot of good for myself. I was doing a good job of taking care of myself, but I couldn’t seem to say it.

My therapist has been helping me see the exact same thing, and he is now helping me change some of the things I say to myself. Instead of saying that I’m nuts, I can say I’m feeling a lot of stress. I like this a lot more than saying happy things while looking at myself in the mirror. That never worked for me. I know it works for some people, but I couldn’t get it to stick for me. So I’m going to take the reality of the situation, but instead of using words that demean me, I’m going to rephrase it into truth that is not degrading.

Last night I took an antianxiety medicine that I have for situations just like this, and I got a good night’s sleep. My meditation this morning was really good. I got some good breaths in between the wandering thoughts, and I went for a good speed walk. On the bus this morning, I was able to chat briefly with the man I’m dating, who was my ex and now is not my ex. It felt good. It wasn’t important stuff, but the connection felt good.

There are many things we can use as tools to help us through our difficult times when we feel bad about ourselves and our lives and the world around us. These are some of the things that work for me. I hope you can find little activities that work for you.

Struggling

I’m struggling today. I want to go home and crawl in bed.

Not going home is the first thing I’m doing to help myself feel better.

The second thing is I meditated early this morning.

Then I walked for exercise.

I’ve also visited the cathedral. I wasn’t able to meditate, but I made myself say a positive thing to myself.

Finally, I got an extra session with my therapist late this afternoon after work.

In between now and then, I will eat a healthy lunch.

I’m using the tools to feel better. I’m not taking this feeling down as permanent. I’m actively working to feel better.

Beauty in the Ugly

Life is messy. Specifically, my life is messy.

I have a good job, but I haven’t managed my finances well. For years, I had nothing to manage, so I went a little crazy when I got this job. But I can get by, and there is an end to paying for that mistake.

There is stress in my job. All jobs have it. Mine is no exception. Since I live with bipolar disorder, I am highly sensitive to stress. I think I’m allergic to it.

Psychologically, I’m a wreck. My mind races. It invents lots of catastrophes that won’t happen, but my gut reacts to the imagined disasters like they’re happening now creating a lot of anxiety.

Romantically, this year has been tumultuous. I dated a man and fell in love and then broke up and went through heartache and now we’re dating again. It feels good right now, but there’s been a lot of upheaval.

Despite all this, I wake every morning and get up out of bed. I have a morning routine that I really like. I drink a cup of tea and briefly scroll through Facebook, and then I meditate. This morning’s meditation was a good example of the beauty in the midst of the turmoil. My mind was racing, so I started counting my breaths on my fingers. The counting aided my concentration, and I was soon simply breathing.

Of course, my mind still wandered, but it wasn’t racing. I was able to bring it back to the breath easily. Then it would wander again, and I’d bring it back to my breath. It’s a very beautiful process. Wandering. Breathing. Wandering. Breathing. Over and over.

Despite the fear I have of rejection, I’m still pursuing a romantic partnership. I put effort into cultivating a good relationship. Last Friday, I was honestly terrified waiting for him to come to dinner, but I didn’t cancel it. I walked through the fear. I was rewarded with a delightful evening, and last night, I was rewarded again with an easy chat by text. It feels good knowing I’m walking through my fear.

I am an imperfect man. I have emotions that get out of control. I’m not always able to react with equanimity to life events. I have a lot of fear and anxiety that almost – almost – debilitates me.

The way I walk through my imperfections is very beautiful. In my head, I’m leaping over them, but in reality, I’m taking just one step at a time. There is real beauty in a single step. Sometimes there is enormous courage in a single step, and courage is beautiful. One single courageous step is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Dating Again

Last night, the man I call my ex came to dinner. I invited him earlier in the week, and he agreed.

I didn’t cook anything elaborate: pasta with pesto, garlic toast, and salad.

I began to get nervous in the morning yesterday, and by the afternoon, I was scared. The fear was coming out in lots of very odd ways. It was focused on all different kinds of objects. I was afraid of stuff at work. I got worried about retirement, which is a long way off.

I was able to chat with my best friend, and just being heard helped me calm down for a while. Then, I got home, and I was honestly panicking. I was certain I was going to lose my job and live on the streets. I was positive that all the changes I’ve made in my life in the past 3 or 4 years were disasters. I told myself I should have never taken my present job and should have stayed on disability.

All of this was redirected anxiety about the date. The truth was I was scared of seeing him again. I was scared of rejection.

My best friend helped me remember to concentrate on one thing at a time. All I had to do was prepare the garlic toast and salad and cook the pasta. That’s all I had to do. So I concentrated on preparing dinner. It was very simple to cook the pasta. The whole thing was easy, but it felt good to get into the actions in the kitchen.

And it paid off nicely. We had a good evening. I kept the conversation light. We had some laughs. The whole evening was good.

The result is he’s no longer my ex. We’re dating. Now comes the hard part for me. I have to allow this relationship to develop slowly and at its own pace. I can’t rush.

I’m going to have to allow. Allow. That word is foreign to me.

Allow.

I’m going to have to use meditation techniques to the fullest.

I’m going to have to breathe through this.