What We Eat

I have read a few articles recently that give evidence that what we eat directly affects our mental health. All the articles said that persons who eat more fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier mentally. Persons with a mental illness also had better results from eating healthier food. In some cases the improvement was startling.

I made a decision this week.

As regular readers know, I meditate daily. It’s vital for my overall health. It gives me a solid, calm core. My emotions still fluctuate normally, but they don’t rule me.

I like to think it’s a result of the meditation, but I began to notice many months ago that my main diet is vegetarian. I simply gravitate toward eating more vegetable meals. I got in the habit two years ago of taking a vegetarian lunch to work.

I usually have some kind of salad that I buy ready made from the grocery store. Right now, it’s quinoa salad. I also take an apple and cheese. This happened on its own. I never made a decision to eat vegetarian lunches.

Breakfast is also vegetarian. These days, I eat a meal-replacement bar that’s high in protein. Some days, it’s just toast with butter. Other days, it’s an apple.

Dinner has been a mixed bag over the past number of years. Sometimes it’s a meal; other times it’s kind of snacking on things around the kitchen like fruit and nuts.

This diet evolved. I never labeled it. I have decided to change that and give it a label. I am now consciously mostly vegetarian and will only eat meat on special occasions. I thought about being wholly vegetarian, but that just doesn’t fit me. What I have chosen feels right for me. I am happy with this decision.

It doesn’t require me to drastically change my habits, but it does make me change the way I think. I have to be honest. After making the decision, I had some anxiety wondering what I’d done. Thankfully, personal decisions can be changed. I reserve that right. I’m going to try this for now and see how it goes.

I’m going to be adding more things to my diet like tofu and beans. I’m also looking forward to learning about new ways to live a new way.

As an aside, I found a bakery not far from where I live that just bakes bread. Really good bread. I went there for the first time yesterday, and I had two thick slices of luscious bread covered with good Irish butter at dinner last night. I’ve added a slice of bread to my lunch today.

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Recovery in Turbulent Times

I write about recovery from mental illness. Recovery is difficult business. It takes a lot of hard work on each of our parts. Maintaining stability is not as simple as waking up and taking a pill. There are many moving parts, and all of them have to be kept in balance as best we can at all times.

It doesn’t help when the news is full of chaos. It’s not a simple process to keep my many parts in balance when there is messy stuff happening all around me.

In the midst of turbulence, here’s what it boils down to:

Focus.

I have to focus on my recovery above all else. I have to keep the focus on maintaining my recovery. I cannot get sidetracked by the many competing items all wanting my attention. I must be the center of the work I do daily.

Two things help me maintain my focus on recovery.

First, I maintain my daily routine above all else. I take the medicine prescribed by my doctor at the same time every day. I drink tea and start the day and meditate every morning. After I meditate, I do some stretching exercises to get my body moving. I continue my day doing my regular activities. For me, that means going to work. I eat healthful food. I need good quality nutrition.

Second, I do not watch the news. I limit my news intake to the headlines. There is a large amount of information bombarding me throughout the day. The vast majority of that information is about things that I personally can have no effect on. Dwelling on that type of information will only upset me. It will upset my recovery and tip me into instability.

I am, however, active. I have a few topics that I am passionate about like LGBT rights. I have marched for LGBT equality. I also marched with the women’s march. These are topics that I feel like I can make a difference in. These are topics I choose to be passionate about. I am also very passionate about the rights of individuals with mental illness. On this topic, I regularly write to my elected officials. The important point is that I have chosen my passion. I disengage from most news to maintain my stability.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the turbulence in today’s world, perhaps my way of maintaining my recovery can help you, too. Be focused. Concentrate on your recovery. Do the things that will make your stability stronger, and limit your intake of things that distract from recovery.

We who live with mental illness have one job: our own recovery. That has to be our priority at all times.

Eighteen

This morning, I was leaning into the refrigerator to get the milk, and I was startled by a realization. Today is my eighteenth anniversary of getting sober.

Eighteen years is a long time. A lot of the memories are simply words now. The emotions attached to the words have faded. I remember searching for release from my demons. I thought liquor was the release. It wasn’t. It made matters worse. Sobriety and the steps and friends and therapy and medication for my mental illness and meditation gave me release.

Release certainly didn’t come in an instant. It took time. I slogged through years of depression trying one medication after another. None helped. When I was five years sober, I had a realization that I was attached to my suffering. I was able to slowly let go of my need to be sick.

It’s not an easy feat, but I’m not sick any more. I like being whole. I honestly love myself now, which is something I couldn’t imagine. I think I began to be completely comfortable with myself somewhere around thirteen or fourteen years of sobriety. I found unconditional love two years ago. It’s quite strong.

I don’t want to change anything about my past. I’m quite happy with my life now, and I have hopes that it will even get better. There’s still a few things I want to do.

Waiting

I had to drive to another location for work yesterday. I got to one point, and there was some road work. The lanes going to the place I needed to reach flowed smoothly, but I noticed the other side of the highway was backed up a very long distance. There was a long line of cars going in the direction I was coming from. I decided that on my return, I would take an alternate route.

I reached my destination and accomplished my task. After the day was done, I began the return trek. I quickly went to the new route and sailed along at a high rate of speed. It was a beautiful drive. There were green mountains and blue skies overhead. It was lovely.

I came around a bend on the freeway to spy cars ahead of me with their brake lights gleaming. There were many cars. I began to slow and tapped my brakes numerous times to alert the drivers behind me of the approaching slowdown.

I reached the cars and stopped. I stayed stopped. I began to wonder what was causing the freeway to be at a dead stop and imagined there was a wreck somewhere ahead.

This is the 21st century, and I had a smartphone equipped with traffic information. While we were stopped, I checked traffic. The map was a mass of red lines where the roads were, meaning the traffic was greatly congested, but there was no information as to the cause.

We continued to stay stopped. And continued. And continued.

I finally rolled down my windows and shut off the engine.

This is going to sound odd, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It’s traffic. I can’t do anything about it, so why let it upset me? The breeze blew through the car, and I listened to the engines of the other cars. I played my radio a bit. My favorite NPR station was having a fund drive asking for donations. I switched the radio off and sat listening to the ambient sounds around me. It didn’t really bother me.

After more than 20 minutes, the cars began to move. We very quickly got up to highway speed, and I got home just fine. I warmed up some curry and rice for dinner.

My mood this morning is nothing like my aplomb in the midst of being at a dead stop on the freeway. I’m quite agitated at my situation, and I’m wailing loudly to the heavens, shaking my fist, demanding attention.

I take a deep breath as I write that. How do I transfer the patience I have in traffic to another part of my life? It makes me smile.

Here I am faced with another instance of something I cannot control, but I have the opposite reaction. In traffic, I’m a saint. In this situation, I’m a toddler.

I need a good walk.

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.

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.