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.

Advertisements

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.

Week 2 of Job Training

The second week of job training starts tomorrow, and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to it so much that I only got five hours sleep last night. That’s not a good thing for me. I normally sleep nine whole hours. I’m concerned that it’s a sign of a swing toward mania.

I got some very good financial news recently, and I’m watching myself for signs of overspending. Spending sprees are a symptom of bipolar widely recognized by psychiatry. There’s nothing better than a whole day spent losing money I don’t have for this gay man. So far, the only luxury has been a dinner with one of my daughters at a cheap restaurant. I don’t think that’s overdoing it yet.

I’m taking my medication as prescribed. I am taking care of myself by brushing my teeth, etc. I am doing the daily maintenance called for in my WRAP.

Who am I kidding? I’m not faithfully following my WRAP. I’m neither meditating nor exercising. I am doing the other things on my Plan:

  • maintaining my sobriety
  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating healthy meals
  • chatting with my best friend
  • checking in with myself
  • talking to supporters
  • educating myself about my recovery and my illness
  • writing
  • being open about my sexuality

I am following those points on my Plan but not two important ones.

Meditating keeps me focused. Even a short five-minute session in the morning affects my mood for the whole day. I sit on a stool in my bedroom and breathe, and then I follow a well-worn path to my happy place, which you can read about here.

I want to exercise. I love walking. I love power walking to be precise. But I can’t right now. I’ve developed painful plantar faciitis, and simple walking around the house is difficult. The good news is that the job training requires me to travel and stay in a hotel with an exercise room. Perhaps there will be some machine there I can use. If I like it, I’ll check out the YMCA’s gym when I get home next week. Maybe I’ll join.

You know what? I’m really fine. I will meditate today and hobble around a local park for some fresh air. I’ve made — what are for me — earth-shattering changes in the last three weeks, and I am happy.

I am happy!

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? - Rumi

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? – Rumi

Diet and Exercise

I am about 30 or 35 pounds (13.6 to 15.9 kg) overweight. It’s ugly weight on my gut. Ugh.

Some of the medication I take for my bipolar disorder causes weight gain, but I know there are ways to alleviate the worst. Diet and exercise are a vital part of feeling better when you have mental illness. Well, they help everyone feel better.

A week ago, I started a low-fat diet, and I restarted my daily walk again. Yes, I stopped my daily walk back in July, because I was very busy with extracurricular activities. I was exhausted. I stopped walking, but I didn’t change my eating habits. Thus, I gained even more weight.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact I have only one pair of jeans that fit. All my pants, and I mean all, are too tight. So, I went shopping online for new pants in my larger waist size. Then…

…it hit me…

Why buy new clothes?

I did not like the way I looked or felt about my size, so why not change my unhealthy eating habits and start power walking again?

I have a group of friends online that I chat with daily, and I asked them if they would help motivate me. They all agreed, and some joined me in my new quest. They have been a great encouragement. When I feel like splurging and going off my new healthy eating habits, I send a message to one of them, and I receive words in return that help me through.

Weight gain is a problem for almost all people taking medication for mental illness. Losing weight while on these medications is very difficult.

I do not have unreasonable demands. I want to lose 30 or 35 pounds in four months. If something happens between now and then and I hit a plateau, I will not berate myself. I will continue to eat sensibly and exercise daily. I will be happy with whatever I’m able to lose.

I want to feel better. I want to do it for me.

Please, read those last two statements again. They represent enormous strides in advancing my self-esteem. I hated myself for a very long time indeed. I am beginning to love myself, and I believe it comes by doing lovable acts.

Taking care of myself is an act of love. Reaching out and being of service to those who need it is an act of love.

It’s a circle. By getting out of my head and into service for the good of mankind, I feel better about myself inside my head.

At least for today, I feel good.

I actually did it

I can feel the depression coming. It feels like soft fingers reaching into my skull and absorbing all the electrical impulses running between the synapses of my brain. The result is that I’m left unimaginably desolate and despairing. I clutch at breath. The few thoughts my mind could hold last night were not pretty ones. They were full of death and anguish.

So what did I do? I forced my daughters to play cards with me. I got outside my brain and into a game.

This morning I was not feeling good either. I still had the sadness. A friend emailed me, and I replied with my state of mind. He suggested I get out of the house and go for a walk at a park.

I did it. I actually did it.

I got out of my house and went to the park and walked for a mile. Am I cured? No. I think I’ll keep taking my medication, but I think I’ll keep up the exercise.

What can I say? If you’re stuck in those thoughts of black despair where no light reaches and if you’re unable to get outdoors, can you open the curtains? Can you allow just a little light in? Try it. Try doing one nice thing for yourself today. Just one.

Solitude

I wish I could tell you I feel great right now, but I can’t. That would be a lie. I’m feeling lonely and afraid. There are several reasons.

The first is completely out of my control. My computer broke. I should say that my desktop computer that I really like died. It needs a new hard drive. Thankfully, it’s still under warranty, and I don’t have to send it anywhere. A technician will come to me with the new part and do the repairs here at my home. I’m also grateful that I have everything backed up to an external hard drive.

Another reason I’m not feeling good right now is that I’m 30 to 40 pounds overweight due to one of my medications. Depakote is known to cause weight gain and to make it very difficult to lose it. It’s a mood stabilizer that has some other nice side effects helping with concentration, which is something I’ve complained about for a long time.

At my last visit with my regular doctor, he mentioned that he would like to see me lose weight. He knows all about my mental health issues, and I explained the problems with Depakote. He said no more. He’s a good doctor and leaves what he doesn’t fully understand to other doctors.

I did something that I preach against in this blog and in my daily life. I stopped taking the Depakote. I took it on myself to stop one of my medications, because I’m fat. I don’t like being fat. None of my clothes fit, and I certainly can’t afford to go out and buy new ones.

Writing this information makes me realize I’m not taking my own advice. Do I want to be fat and stable or thin and moody?

I’ll choose stable and also get back into walking regularly. You read that correctly. I’ve stopped walking. I moved a year and a half ago away from the park where I used to walk and got out of the habit.

I went walking yesterday back at that old park, and it felt wonderful. I’m going to ease back into walking. It was really a joy.

I need more joy. I’ll give myself a daily dose of joy, and I’ll start taking my Depakote again right away.

Action is the keyword

When I’m feeling down, I find that physical activity lifts my spirits. It can be as simple as brushing my teeth. It can be washing the dishes (see my post on this blog about “Meditative Dishwashing”). A walk does wonders, even if it’s just to the end of the driveway to check the mailbox. Taking action on my own behalf always helps me.

I recently found the wherewithal to start exercising again. It’s simple stuff I do at home, but I can tell you that the act of moving muscles stretches my brain, too. I put up a Christmas tree with some help, and the socialization and the act of beautifying my little house profoundly affected my mood.

No matter how small try moving around when you feel blue. It helps me.