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.

Coming From a Place of Self-Love

I’ve had a reason to think about my love for myself the past couple of days. I was challenged in an online forum by another individual who was writing very mean-spirited things directed at me. Remarkably, I was unfazed. It did not register at all.

Suddenly, I realized I have come a long way. The reason I was unfazed is that the other person’s opinion of me truly did not matter. I read her insults, and they passed right through my consciousness without sticking to any particular place.

Two years ago, I would have been very hurt. Last year, I would have been angry. Right now, that person does not matter one iota. I am sitting in my chair actually enjoying my day.

This stranger’s opinion is meaningless, because I do not receive my sense of self-worth from any other human being breathing on the planet. I give my high sense of self-worth to myself, and no one can assail it.

I got here through meditation. Try it.

Being Selfish

One of the oddest things about life is that when we are very small, we have to be taught to share. It is stressed over and over again that we have to share with our playmates. We aren’t allowed to hoard all the toys or take all the food from the lunch counter.

Many of us spend a great many adult years unlearning this lesson. We have to learn a healthy way of being selfish.

I have spoken to many people in various forms of distress. One of my favorite suggestions is to do one nice thing for ourselves every day. These can be very simple. We can give ourselves a full minute of deep breathing. Taking a walk in the sunshine is another good way to be nice to ourselves. If it’s what we want, we could indulge in our favorite food. We get to decide how to be nice to ourselves.

Many of us are taught to always place others before ourselves. This is appropriate in many situations, but it’s not healthy at all times. There are many times we have to place our own needs above our neighbor’s.

It is popular to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love others. I used to disagree with that. I thought I needed to deny myself my own love. I thought I could love others while ignoring my own needs. I now see that I cannot give what I do not have.

Ultimately, doing one nice thing for ourselves each day is meant to lead us to loving ourselves continuously.

When I come from a place of self-love, I can reach out with more love than I ever imagined. I am capable of more compassion than I knew previously. Empathy is more genuine.

It’s possible that being selfish may be the best way to help each other.

New Frontiers

A few days ago, I thought I’d finished with all the transforming I needed in one lifetime. I was done. I was going to live with the imperfections, and I was going to be happy.

That lasted until I got too tired of the discomfort. Pain actually.

This morning in meditation, I opened my belly, and I began to pull out something that hurt. It turned out to be attached to a chain that would not let go of its anchor, so I dove down to find out how deep it went.

It was deep. Very deep.

I got right down to where a little, snarling childlike version of myself was protecting the end of the chain. I thanked the snarling child for doing his job. He protected me for many years by getting me the things that I wanted. I then explained to him that his work was done. I soothed him. He was quite surprised, but he settled down and released the end of the chain.

I picked up the chain, I took the boy’s hand, and we went up to the surface. I gave him to an angel, and I was released from the pain.

It left a void, and I invited light to fill it.

What I have just described is a kind of guided visualization. I use it a great deal, and I get very good benefits from it. I’m able to help myself with very simple techniques. It’s really startling how much pain I’ve been able to release using guided visualization. I recommend meditation to anyone who thinks they can’t help themselves. I’ve been meditating for many years, decades actually. It works, and it does not have to be difficult.

I’m still going to revel in my humanity.

Allowing vs Accepting

A friend asked a question that made me think. She asked about how to be happy even when some situations were not good.

I think I found an answer by learning to allow. When I allow a situation to exist without creating a value judgement on it, I am free.

That seems completely different from accepting to me. When I accept a situation, that implies that I have assessed it and made a judgement about it. It further implies that I have judged it and didn’t like it. I have to then change my attitude and let it be the way it is despite my dislike.

If I allow, I do not even have to make the value judgement. I am completely free of even the need to judge. I am free.

I recently had a disappointment about something I was working on. It was hard to swallow. In the face of my inability to do anything to change the situation, I accepted the reality and began to think of ways to move forward despite the disappointment. I disliked the situation, but I recognized my powerlessness and accepted the reality.

I wonder how much calmer I would have been as the situation unfolded, if I had simply allowed it to happen. I fought. Could I have remained calm by simply observing the events? I’m not sure.

I believe I could have had an easier time by allowing events to unfold. I could have gone about my day enjoying the sunshine and the cool breezes instead of worrying about events.

I didn’t do that. I felt a need to intervene. Afterward, I accepted it. I would have been happier by allowing.

I have one piece of the puzzle of my life that I am desperately trying to control. I want a certain thing to happen. How can I step back, take a breath, and allow it to unfold? I think I’m going to have to let that one emerge from hour to hour. My need to control is very strong. I cannot do that day to day. It’s going to have to be minute to minute at times.

I’m going to give it a shot.

Caring

I am happy today to ask others to care for me and to help me care for myself. I can raise my voice among my friends and talk about my disappointments. I can accept their words of solace and encouragement. I can also readily ask them for ideas of how I can nurture myself when I’m feeling low.

I had to learn how to speak up, listen and accept, and request assistance. It did not come naturally, but I have it now, and I’m grateful.

It came in stages. I first had to learn to talk about my difficult situations. This meant I had to break through the voices in my head that claimed no one cared. Another voice said they would think poorly of me if I appeared weak. It took courage to speak above these voices and make myself heard. The beautiful part was that I learned how simple it was after doing it only once. That first time gave me great happiness to be heard.

Next, I had to accept the good wishes of my friends and their encouragement. This took some self-discipline. I want to tell myself that I’m not worthy of their kindness. I want them to know of these thoughts, too. I can say confidently today that I am indeed worthy. I learned this by gratefully listening to my friends telling me they thought I could overcome a difficulty.

The biggest hurdle came when I realized I needed to practice self-care. I not only need to accept encouragement from my friends, but I also need to give it to myself. I need to believe in myself. I need to believe that I am worthy of loving myself. This may have been the highest hurdle to jump.

I did it. It came slowly, but I gradually learned to love myself. Today, I have it solidly. I know I am worthy of help from others and help for myself. Those old voices that told me I wasn’t worth it are silent now.

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.