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.

Using Tools

This morning, my anxiety has been high. I have hopes for a situation to work itself out in a certain way in the very near future, and I’m anxious about it. Because I’m in recovery, I have experience using tools to help me cope when I have difficult emotions rolling around inside.

The first tool I used this morning was meditation, and it helped enormously. I was very calm and centered for a few hours afterward. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing helps me when I’m anxious or otherwise unhappy.

I would normally go for a good powerwalk, but my knee doesn’t feel right. I have to stay off it for a while. I’m sad about this, because exercise is a very good way to work through unpleasant emotions.

I got to work fine, and I’ve been concentrating on some tasks. That helps a great deal, but it doesn’t take my whole mind off what I’m anxious about.

So I turned to another tool: friends in recovery. I’m a member of a small group on the internet of people in recovery from mental illness. I asked them what they did to cope with anxiety. One person reminded me to take breaks from the busy-ness. I just did that. I left my cubicle and went for a walk in the sun. I went down the street to the cathedral and sat there for five minutes. It worked. I feel calm again.

I have therapy tonight, and it couldn’t come at a better time. I will be able to talk to my psychologist about what’s going on. I have found in all my years in therapy that when I talk about a problem, it loses its power. Sometimes it disappears completely.  It really works.

I do not know if talking to my therapist will cause today’s anxiety to disappear completely, but I am positive it will help.

I am grateful today for the tools I have to aid me in my recovery.

Routine

Last weekend, I had a houseguest. An old friend from the city I used to live in needed a short break from her surroundings, so I spoke up and invited her to come over for a weekend. She jumped at the chance.

We had fun. We ate some very good food at a number of good restaurants I know around the city. We visited a famous site where she’d never been and took a tour. I’d been to this site only once before quite a few years ago, so I was delighted to get to go again. We also went to the mall and walked around the shops. We happened across a high-end chocolatier, and I splurged on some very good chocolates. We also got to spend time with a mutual friend, and that was delightful.

I did my laundry on a day that I don’t normally do that chore. I skipped cutting my hair on Saturday morning. I also didn’t go for my regular powerwalk.

On Sunday afternoon, I drove my friend back to the airport and hugged her goodbye. I then drove home and stayed inside for the rest of the day. I played on the internet and read a book and relaxed.

Monday, I was oddly distracted all day. It was hard to concentrate on work, and my colleague asked if I was feeling okay.

Then it struck me that I was irritable. I wasn’t feeling completely normal. I felt a bit off kilter, if that makes sense.

As I was realizing this, the reason flashed across my mind. My routine had been completely upset over the weekend. I didn’t get to do anything at my normal times.

I’ve understood this before. Routine is very important to individuals with mental illness. It’s a way we self-manage our illnesses. By performing the same tasks in the same way over and over, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the time is passing calmly. It’s a way to maintain equilibrium.

It has taken me a few days, but I now feel like I’m back to my old self again. My routine is in place, and my equilibrium has returned.

I am grateful for this reminder. I am also grateful I could enjoy the weekend. It felt wonderful to participate in activities that enriched my life. I loved seeing my old friend again. Even though my routine was discarded for a few days, I was able to cope, and then I regained my routine shortly after and got back to my comfortable feelings.

Coping with Anxiety

Yesterday was not an easy one for me. It was busy with emails flying about and doctor appointments and phone calls. The emails were unfortunately very confrontational, and they caused me a lot of anxiety.

Over the years of therapy I’ve been grateful to have, I’ve come to recognize negative emotions in my body right from the very beginning. For me, they start in my stomach. When I feel it churning or burning, I know that I’m experiencing anxiety or fear. When my chest tightens, then I’ve already missed the early warning signs, and the situation grew. If my face muscles clench or I have a headache, then things are out of control.

Thankfully yesterday, I caught my emotions while they were still in my stomach. It was extremely unpleasant, and I was relieved to have two appointments with health professionals. I saw my psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner and my psychologist. Both are very competent women with many years in their fields, and I trust them fully.

The nurse practitioner and I had a good opportunity to discuss the situation, and she had some great feedback. She suggested that I begin to disengage from the volunteer organization that I spend so much time and energy giving to. She didn’t tell me to quit, but to let others in the group step up and do much of the work. I have been doing this since the beginning of the year, and I’m continuing it.

My psychologist had even more concrete ideas about easing the trouble causing my upset stomach. I had been insulted by one conversaion, and she suggested I write a very short note to the friend who had hurt me. I did that. I wrote clearly that my feelings were hurt. I did not write in anger. I did not express any either. I stated simply what words hurt me. Just discussing the idea of writing the note eased my churning stomach. Actually doing it and hitting the send button on my computer gave me more satisfaction. Later, I received a simple and heartfelt apology. All was well.

My psychologist paid me a great compliment. When I began counseling with her many years ago, it would take us many sessions to dig up my emotions. Yesterday, I entered her office and immediately explained my upset stomach and what was causing it. We came to a good conclusion, and I followed through. All that was accomplished in one sitting.

I have learned to pay attention to my body. It doesn’t lie to me. If something is wrong in my environment or with a situation that I can’t put my finger on, I can trust the sensations my body is giving me. I did not learn this overnight. It took many years, and I am still perfecting it. I will always be a work in progress.

Anxiety is awful. It robs us of clear thinking and overall enjoyment of life. Causes of anxiety are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach. I used to be terribly frightened to drive in parking lots. Life is not simple, and I needed a coping mechanism to allow me to park with minimal fear and greatest safety. I learned to plot my course. I visualized entering the parking lot from the same spot and turning down the same lane each time. My decision was to park in the first available stall regardless of its distance from the store’s entrance.

It worked. I learned to practice this visualizing and planning technique with many other situations in my life. Whatever gave me fear would be met by clear thinking and discussions with caregivers and planning.

I am not alone today. I have people who care about my success at daily living. They help, and I am learning to accept help.

Busy Busy Busy

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People with bipolar disorder often have a lot of extra time, and I am no exception. The time I have on my hands will be less in the not-too-distant future, because I will begin working as a Certified Peer Specialist Intern in a mental health clinic. The internship is only part-time and will last for just three months. Still, when one has not worked for a good many years, even a job of fifteen hours each week will probably drain me. That’s not to mention that the medication I take causes drowsiness already.

When we don’t have extra time due to not working, we have it since we aren’t sleeping. As unpleasant as it sounds, insomnia plagues persons with bipolar disorder especially during manic episodes. In any event, there is time to fill.

One of my favorite activities when I’m hyperactive yet unproductive is washing the dishes. I have a whole meditation exercise built around this seemingly mundane chore. I love the sound the water makes when I turn it on and the sight of the growing bubbles in the basin. My technique is to actually talk to myself while washing, and it calms me. I wrote about it in more detail here and here. I have heard from others it helps them feel calm, too.

I like reading, but it’s difficult when I’m in a manic mood. Walking soothes me just as dish washing does, and I have tried reading while pacing. Now, one needs skill not to bump into the furniture or even walls. Also, I can’t read dense prose while moving around. What was my answer? I found reading children’s books suitable. It distracts and entertains me. It doesn’t have to be a book full of pictures. A chapter book for young readers works perfectly.

Walking around my neighborhood is also a good idea. Weather permitting, I can stroll, enjoy the gardens, and assume I’m getting a bit of exercise. When I walk, I consciously spy on the most minute details. I notice the cracks in the pavement. I make a game of counting the colors of houses. I concentrate on my breath. What are the sights and sounds least readily apparent but present?

My town sits by the water, so I can walk there, taking in the smells and even talking to the fishermen. They are a garrulous bunch when I ask the right questions about weather conditions, fish, and bait.

Libraries hold treasures of reading material and people. They are an excellent place to volunteer, even if the only thing one contributes is dusting the books and shelves. All help is appreciated.

I write this blog and read dozens. It’s a small thing really. I’m not famous, nor will I ever be. I write as meditation. Crafting sentences pleases me. Thinking of words makes my mind click. It’s fun plain and simple.

There are so many ways to keep occupied:

  • Cooking new recipes
  • Listening to music
  • Learning a musical instrument
  • Cleaning something
  • Writing poetry
  • Studying a foreign language
  • Drawing a picture
  • Reading jokes
  • Searching the Internet for interesting pictures
  • Learning a new word

I am grateful to live during the dawn of the Internet. Information pours out of this machine at a rate incomprehensible even a few decades ago.

The world is literally my oyster.

I realize many items I’ve listed here are impossible for those suffering bouts of severe, chronic depression. I hope those people will not feel forgotten or excluded. I chatted with a good friend today who lives with major depression. My suggestion to him never changes: do one nice thing for yourself each day. When I was at my lowest, brushing my teeth was often the only nice thing I could accomplish.

We are all worthwhile. We can all do just a bit to help us. We can start loving us and reach out to those around us to share it.

Feeling Surreal

Can time be experienced as more than simple aging and decay?

Can time be experienced as more than simple aging and decay?

I wrote recently how my negative self-talk had stopped. I’m happy to report there’s been no resurgence. I won’t call this permanent, but there’s a sea change in my head. I glow.

My psychiatric nurse practitioner took one look at me yesterday and noticed. I’m beaming.

I have been studying for my job training classes. They hoisted an enormous 3-ring binder on us bursting at the seams with information, and we will be tested on it at the end of the training. There will be a written and an oral test. I’m concentrating on the present. I’m studying and retaining as much as possible. The test isn’t today.

Where did this patience come from? When did this ability to live here now appear?

I can honestly say I awoke after the training and realized I had a head clear of the negative bombardment I’d known all my life. I’m questioning when these qualities I’ve seen in others came to me.

I’ll be going for another week of training in a matter of days, and I am truly excited. One of the next lessons will be about battling negative self-talk. Ha! It appears that all I needed was to write a WRAP, and – poof! – they were gone.