Spirituality and My Recovery

I often talk about meditation on this blog. It is one of the five pillars of my recovery.

What I have not talked about yet is spirituality. Meditation, after all, is a spiritual practice.

I get an enormous amount of good from my daily meditation. It has enabled me to develop a calm center that I can return to when my world is chaotic. (For my most recent post about mediation, click here.)

It’s easy for me to have faith that there is something more to my existence than the things I can see with my eyes. I grew up in a church and continued going for a long time. The idea of faith in a spiritual realm is not foreign to me.

My beliefs have altered greatly over my life. I no longer go to church, but I feel closer to something I call Spirit than I ever have. I get that from meditation. I have many friends in recovery from mental illness, and many of them tell me that spirituality is important to them.

Spirituality is a very personal part of each individual’s recovery. We each get to decide for ourselves what we want to include in our recovery. I find that meditation is very helpful. If you want to know more about my meditative practice, search “meditation” on the blog.

Advertisements

Progress vs. Movement

I had a chat with a very special friend this morning. I mentioned that I’m moving deeper into releasing, allowing, and letting go. The chat proceeded, and I added

Progress, not perfection.

He replied,

I experience the present as I move through it, without the need to define it as “better” or “worse” or “growth” or whatever… It simply IS. And I am participating in it.

I stopped. There’s something in that. There’s movement in both sayings. A person starts at point A in their situation and goes to point B.

Progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” However, there is definitely an underlying notion to the word that means the movement is desirable. There’s an idea that the movement will lead to a better place.

My friend’s sentences do not have that underlying meaning, because he just used the word “move.” That word is simpler. It doesn’t have the ghosts that progress does.

I really like being free of the connotations. I really do.

At the same time, I really want to improve. I want the situations in my life to get better both externally and internally.

But I really want to release the need to measure my movement. I want to stop requiring myself to always achieve a level better than yesterday.

Oh! That would indeed be a profound bit of progress. To release the need to judge would be glorious! After all, measuring our movement – measuring our progress – is judging it. We apply the critical eye to ascertain the level of achievement in order to know how much approval to issue the mover.

I want to release the need to judge myself. I want to simply move.

Where to Next?

Today is Tuesday, October 10, 2017, and it is World Mental Health Day. I can’t write about mental health as it exists all over the world, but I can write about my experiences with challenging mental health.

Much of this year, I’ve been wondering about my story. I really can’t explain it. I recovered, and I don’t know why. I have a slight grasp on how, but why eludes me completely.

I like to sum up the how in just five little words:

  1. medication
  2. meditation
  3. therapy
  4. exercise
  5. sleep

I think WRAP has something to do with it too, but I’ve pretty much internalized that and rarely actually look at the written document. (You can search for WRAP on this blog in the tags on the right side of the screen of your computer. I’m not sure where the tags are, if you’re on a mobile device. There’s also a little place where you can enter search items. Just type in WRAP.)

But, why?

Why did I recover?

I work in mental health now. I talk on the phone to my peers as part of my job, and it’s quite eye-opening. I hear about the difficulties others are having with many different types of situations. Each caller is doing their best to overcome whatever may be happening that is disagreeable. Sometimes, reaching out to me is one of the ways they’re trying to overcome problems. Other times, they just want someone to listen. It’s usually very clear right from the very beginning what the caller wants from the conversation.

What’s unclear to me is myself. My own story baffles me. You can search the archives of this blog going back more than 7.5 years. I came through some dark times. When I remember those times, I’m amazed I made it through and got to where I am today.

I think I’m spending so much time thinking about the why, because it has something to do with healing. I want to share healing with my peers.

But that’s off. The healing is what happened. Does it matter why it happened, or is the how it happened more vital?

There’s one more point about how that may hold the key: one. I kept it to one step. I concentrated on just the one step I was taking. I never thought ahead to a second step. I thought only of the one. Then, I would take one more step. Then one more. It was always just one.

When I was bedridden with depression, I would do one nice thing for myself for one day. Some days that one nice thing was brushing my teeth. It was one little reminder that I was worth just that tiny bit of self-care. Some days, it was making one healthy thing to eat, or just eating one piece of healthy food like an apple.

Taking only one step. Doing one nice thing for myself. One.

Life is complex. When you add mental illness to it, it can be chaotic. There is so much to think about that it’s overwhelming. Concentrating on only one thing relieves the chaos.

One.

By concentrating on one step, I made many steps. I got from there to here. It took years. I had a lot of help along the way, but I was the one doing the walking. I was the one taking just one step. I want to share that with others.

And now I ask where to next?

Tolerance for Ambiguity

I have a lot of difficulty right now. There is a situation at work that I’ve been working on all year. It appeared that all the pieces were in place to make it happen, and then I got word that one important piece has gone awry.

My first response in situations like this is to end it. I want the situation to be cut and dried, but that doesn’t seem to be the best response. The situation can’t go on for many days, because there are deadlines. So I’m giving it just a bit of time. I’m allowing ambiguity into the situation.

Strangely, I’m rather comfortable with this ambiguity. I am allowing there to be uncertainty, and I am choosing to walk through it. I am concentrating very specifically on only one task at a time. If I can do just one thing at a time, those one-things will line up to some kind of conclusion. I don’t know what the conclusion will be at this point, and I’m sitting in that uncertainty and allowing it to have its space.

All this is very strange for me. I’m having more reaction to the strangeness than I am to uncertainty.

I had a good session with my psychologist last night talking about this. He told me to add a phrase to “tolerance for ambiguity.” He said, “You’re tolerating the ambiguity and learning to make friends with it.” That seems key. I’m learning to make friends with not knowing.

Not knowing usually causes me great anxiety – tremendous anxiety – but I’ve been meditating a lot these past months releasing my anxiety surrounding the uncertainty in my personal life. I’ve come to a place of peace with the ambiguity there. Perhaps I can learn to live with ambiguity at work, too.

I feel the anxiety, but it’s much less than past events have caused.

A decision will be made today, because there are deadlines. One possible decision may be to give it just one more day.

I’ll deal with that ambiguity when it happens.

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.

Self-Care

When we find ourselves in difficult times, it is necessary to nurture ourselves. It is more than necessary. It is vital.

Let’s try to do things that are truly nurturing. If you’re feeling down due to any reason, you may think that buying a bunch of new clothes will cheer you up, and for a few brief moments, you’re correct. You’ll be happy with your new clothes, but it will fade. A shopping spree is not nurturing in the long run.

What kinds of things will help us feel better longer? That is an excellent question, and it’s one I struggle to answer.

Let me share what works for me.

I like to read, so often times when I feel low, I will take an old book off the shelf that I know I like, I will open it to a random page and just read. I may make myself a cup of tea to enjoy, too.

I also meditate. There was one day last month that I was feeling a lot of anxiety. I was able to take the day off, and I spent it at home alone. I meditated four times that day. It was very refreshing, and it helped me soothe my anxiety. It worked. I felt better. (For one way to meditate, click here.)

I had anxiety last week, and I searched for anxiety-relieving music on YouTube. I found a lot, and I listened to some. It worked. It really did. Try searching for it and see what you find.

Here are some ideas for nurturing yourself:

Take a walk in a park. Sit in a park. Sit in the sunshine. Study the stars in the night sky. Study the moon. Spend time with your pet. Ask a friend who has a pet to let you spend time with it. Listen to soothing music. Play soothing music on an instrument. Read a story. Go to the library and spend time in the children’s section reading books. Read a book to a child at the library. Meditate. Try a guided meditation on YouTube. Draw a picture of a pretty scene. Make a collage of pretty scenes from pictures in magazines.

The ideas are endless. I think the focus should be on nurturing.

What will nurture your heart? Do that. Do as much as you possibly can.

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.