Gratitude

One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.

Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.

Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.

It really is a miracle just to be alive.

If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?

Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.

Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.

Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.

Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.

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.

I Can Only Be Me

I’ve had a rough few weeks. I experienced hypo-mania, which I haven’t had for quite a number of years. It was very uncomfortable. I’ve been recuperating. I’ve meditated quite a bit, and it helps enormously. It really does bring me a lot of healing energy.

My psychiatrist said something that made me pause. He told me not to be a hero. I wanted to return to a full schedule of work, and he pointed out the importance of taking time to heal.

I’ve been talking to myself a lot about what I’m experiencing. It’s a way of integrating the situation and allowing it to be what it is and then healing it. I realized I have many very great expectations of myself.

I made a decision.

I allow myself to be flawed. I allow myself to be perfectly human.

I do not need to change any more or to somehow develop and reach toward perfection. I get to be me with all my un-whole-ness.

I am living my life, and I will not apologize for my glorious humanity.

I am not perfect, and I am perfectly happy with that.

How to Help Your Friend with Mental Illness

I am very grateful for my friends. I am very open about my mental illness. Being open works for me, but there are many people who choose to keep it quiet.

If you have a friend who confides their mental illness to you, I hope you will be grateful for the trust they place in you. There is a great deal of stigma against the mentally ill and mental illness in general. When we disclose to people, we are being brave.

If your friend discloses to you, ask them how they want you to help. Listen to their ideas. Most of the time, we only want someone to understand our situation and why we may appear a little “off” at times. We are each unique, and we will each want different things from our friends.

It is safe for me to say there is one thing we never want from our friends: medical advice, no matter how innocuous it may seem to you. We take our medical advice from our doctors, and it sometimes takes us many years to begin to trust them. I’m sure our friends don’t want to endanger that trust.

It’s possible that a person with mental illness but with little understanding of their illness may react inadvisedly to news from a friend that perhaps the only thing wrong is a vitamin deficiency. This person may leap at the thought they can be cured with simple supplements and cease taking their important medicines for their mental illness.

Stopping taking medicine can have disastrous effects when the symptoms of the illness return. The symptoms can be difficult to reverse, and they can sometimes lead to terrible consequences. They can even be fatal.

We need our friends. You are important to us. Vital, actually. We are often quite isolated. Listen to us when we talk. Tell us we are heard. Hug us. Let us know we are not alone.

That’s all we really need.

My Internalized Stigma

I am fully committed to my recovery. I can and do live a full life. I am very grateful to have a good job helping other mental health peers find their own paths to recovery.

This morning, I faced the fact that I still carry internalized stigma against mental illness.

I have been experiencing intense but unfocused anxiety for about 3 days. I left work early Tuesday. Yesterday, I went in and started work, but I left after an hour. This morning, I went in, sat at my desk, and immediately sent two emails requesting sick leave. I need to take care of my mental health.

Yet I felt guilty requesting time to take care of my mental health. I felt guilty for having debilitating anxiety.

I feel nothing when I need to take time off for a cold or worse, but this morning, I felt guilty. Something inside me said I need to be tougher. That’s bullshit.

From now on, I will not say I need to take care of my mental health. I will only say that I need to take care of my health. My mental health is just as vital to care for as my physical health. In my situation, it might even be more important.

I have taken an important step toward regaining good health. I have called my psychologist and asked for an extra appointment, and he is checking to see when he can work me in. He told me he will find the time. Therapy is an important tool I use to maintain my recovery. Getting this appointment is a signal to myself that I will do whatever is necessary to care for my health.

I am worth it.

I will continue to tell the voice that says I should be tough and not take leave to care for my health that it is wrong on every level. I am valuable. I am worth having good health.

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.