Create a Reason to Smile

Today, I was reminded that there is a lot of good in the world. There are people around us with genuinely good hearts.

Sometimes, our individual lives feel bereft of reasons to smile. Sometimes, our lives are sad.

Let’s each one of us create a reason to smile today.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be incredibly simple.

If you stand up out of your chair and walk outside and turn your face to the sun, that’s a wonderful reason to smile. If you choose a tea you like and make yourself a soothing cup, that’s a delicious, warm reason to smile. If you have a friend, thank them and smile. If you pick up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, that’s an excellent reason to smile.

Our world can be overwhelming.

With a little act, we can each create reasons to smile.

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Try

Few clichés make me angrier than Yoda’s “Do or do not. There is no try.” I sit here in my imperfection, and I want the world to know that sometimes simply trying is heroic.

I remember one bout of depression that was so profound the only effort I could make was to lie on the sofa and sing “la la la” over and over. I barely had enough energy to brush my teeth. Singing “la la la” to myself while I was prostrate and immobile was all the effort I could muster.

I will not apologize for not being a superhero.

If you try to do one simple thing to take care of yourself today, you’re my hero! If you sit up on the side of the bed and stand up and walk to the sink to brush your teeth, you’re my hero! If you put on clean clothes despite the voices in your head telling you it’s not important, you’re my hero! If you wash one dish from your pile of dirty ones so you can look at a pretty plate under your cheese sandwich, you’re my hero!

All you have to do today is try! Don’t let Hollywood tell you that if you’re not a super-model or superhero, then you’re worthless. Don’t listen to the news. Don’t listen to the internet.

Don’t listen to Yoda!

If you’re breathing despite all the anxiety or depression or mania or voices, you’re a hero!

Just One

No matter how you feel today, try doing just one nice thing for yourself. Just one.

I’ve had times when I couldn’t get out of bed. I dragged myself to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. Brushing my teeth was the one nice thing I did for myself that day. On other days, I’ve cooked wholesome food for myself. That required a lot more little things to make it happen. (Making the trip to the grocery store, buying the groceries, cleaning anything that might need it like fresh vegetables, etc.) I used to live near a beautiful park, and I would go there and sit on a bench. That was nice. It was also simple.

I’m not talking about buying myself something nice. That kind of nice fades very quickly right after the money is spent. I’m talking about a kind of nice that nurtures me.

If you’re not in a good place today, perhaps you can find the strength to do just one nice thing.

Nurture yourself. You’re worth it. You really are.

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?

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.

Healing the Wound

When I remember my drinking days, the pain is what comes up first. There was tremendous pain. It was pervasive. It seeped into every corner of my being, and it oozed out of me in all my relationships. I was capable of happiness, but it was always fleeting. It was never enduring.

I drank for one simple reason: it gave me relief from the pain. What I did not understand was that the relief was fleeting. The drinking did not do anything to help heal the pain. The wound remained. The drinking was a kind of Band Aid on my wound.

It’s no secret that my wound was my warped perceptions of what it meant to be gay. The ideas inculcated in me about homosexuality were not compatible with living a happy life. I grew up convinced that god hated gay people, and that gays were beyond god’s grace. I also had good reason to fear ostracism from my family if they knew I was gay. Finally, society allowed violence against gay people. Some portions of society even condoned it preaching that gays were beneath contempt and unworthy of safety and fulfilling lives.

I became an alcoholic, because I got relief from my pain when I drank. The pain was so great that I needed a lot of alcohol to relieve it, and I needed it daily.

The day came, however, when the pain became more than the alcohol could cover. That day I faced the fact that alcohol no longer worked. That day I also discovered that quitting drinking was not a simple matter. I am grateful that I found AA. With the help of the 12 Steps and with the love from a sponsor and other members of the program, I found a way to live without alcohol.

Sadly, the pain was still there. The wound went untreated. I lost the Band Aid that alcohol provided. My next course of action was to find a way to heal the real wound. I am grateful that I found therapy as a young adult. I continued it through the years, and it proved invaluable for healing my wound.

Meditation also helped me slowly change my perceptions of what being gay meant. I learned I am not an abomination. I learned god loves me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself.

Gradually, I healed.

And I discovered that when my wound healed, drinking became unnecessary. It’s not even the slightest issue. I go to gay bars these days and feel nothing. I have no compulsion to drink alcohol.

AA gave me the tools to stay away from alcohol, but the AA I was exposed to did not direct me to the tools I needed to heal the wound that caused me to drink. The AA that I was part of treated the drinking as if it was the wound. It taught me that not drinking was enough.

But it wasn’t enough. I needed to heal the wound. I had to find the ways to heal outside the rooms of AA.

I doubt I’m alone. I am confident when I say that alcoholics drink because it provides relief from a pain-causing wound. We need to stop drinking because it is a destructive way of treating the wound. It does not heal. It masks only.

We are doing a disservice by telling people that the pain will stop when the drinking stops. This wasn’t the case for me, and I know many people who agree. We need to do our part to help individuals stop drinking, but we also need to actively direct them to the places where they can heal their wounds.

After 18 years of sobriety, I’ve seen countless people return to drinking after a period of sobriety, and I am convinced it’s because they could not find a way to heal their wound. They return to using the only Band Aid they knew that gave them any amount of relief.

It’s not enough to stop drinking if we ignore the reason the drinking started. The drinking is only a Band Aid. It is not the wound.

Again, we need to actively help individuals find a way to heal their wounds.

[I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’m reluctant to share it, but I have experienced my words reaching others who feel the same but are unable to speak for various reasons, so I’ll share.]