Healing Demons

I have now seen a meme twice. A meme is a viral phenomenon that spreads an idea from person to person in a given population. It’s also the slang term used to describe a trite saying usually accompanied by a picture on the internet.

This particular meme says, “We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”

I can happily report that we can heal them. We do not have to simply learn to tolerate their rude behavior as they live downstairs. It is possible to completely heal them, releasing ourselves from their power. Why can I say this? Because I healed mine.

It’s popular to talk about our baggage, the stuff we carry with us from the past that weighs us down. Baggage is something we talk about with a therapist. In the early days of going to AA, I heard a lot about baggage, and I realized that I don’t simply have baggage. I had a freight train.

Indeed I did. I had so much junk attached to myself on many different subjects: homosexuality, religion, being an American male from the South, parental expectations, etc. The list is very long.

I started therapy when I was 23. The first big item I tackled was anger. It may surprise you to learn that I actually had to teach myself how to be angry. I remember it quite well. I had to keep a small notepad in my pocket and write down every time I felt angry. It took many months before I was able to recognize my real anger. I suppressed it before. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be angry. It was an enormously unhealthy way to live.

I haven’t thought about that episode in my attempts to unpack my freight train in a very long time. My anger is healthy now. I feel it. If necessary, I act on it. I let it pass. It flows like it’s supposed to.

That is a perfect example of healing a demon, and that’s what bugs me about that meme. Saying that the best we can hope for is to merely live above them does us all a disservice. We can indeed heal them. We can completely disarm them and free ourselves from their grip.

I have healed many demons. I don’t live above anything unpleasant.

I am free!

I am very happy to be a gay man now, but I used to loathe myself. I healed the loathing. I did the necessary self-care that led to a very happy realization that I like being gay. I live completely out now. It was a difficult journey fraught with upset, but I did it. I did it!

I am free!

If you think you have pain that can only be tolerated and never healed, you are wrong. If I can heal the trauma of growing up gay in a time and place that abhorred it, you can heal, too. You can. I promise.

The question becomes how to start. Therapy worked for me. I know that it works for a great many people, because they’ve told me it works. It’s also important to do some work on our own.

Meditation is an amazing habit to form. It teaches us to find our calm center. We each have one. Most of us need help to find it. Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Sit quietly doing nothing. Don’t sit and rock. Don’t sit and drink water. Sit. Just sit. Let your mind wander, and look for the spaces between the wandering thoughts. Try to enlarge those spaces in between. Don’t judge yourself as your mind wanders. Just watch it.

Exercise is important for me, too. I powerwalk. It’s something I enjoy, and it only requires good shoes. It doesn’t take any other special equipment. Think about what you enjoy, and do it.

There are many ways we each can begin the journey of healing. What do you want to look like after you have healed? Think about it, and think about the ways you want to get to that place. Find the help you need, and use it.

You can be free, too. I promise.

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Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos

It’s no secret that there is a great deal of turmoil in the world at present. There are large protests in the US. Many countries in Europe are experiencing difficulties related to the large numbers of refugees coming in. I don’t know about yours, but my news is full of stories of upheaval and tumult.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when the headlines are shouting about mayhem. Those of us with mental illness know the importance of remaining calm and maintaining equilibrium.

Here’s my plan.

First, I remember the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a great deal in the world that I cannot change, and it is important for me to recognize where I can have an effect and where I need to release. For example, I have a vote, but I only have one vote. It is important for me to exercise my choice by voting, but I must release the outcome since my single vote will not determine any winners. I am one voice in a sea of many. I do my part and release the rest.

Second, I simply do not read all of the news. I pick and choose. I have a few topics that I am passionate about, so I read that news. I skip over the rest. As a solitary individual, there is little I can do to affect the vast majority of situations. I choose to invest my energy in only a couple of major issues. I keep myself basically informed of some of the other major issues in the news, but I simply skip over a great deal. I’m not hiding from the news. I’m editing my consumption. I act this way to maintain my sense of inner peace. I had a friend who tried to stay abreast of all the news a few months ago, and it had a disastrous affect on her mind. She was quickly overwhelmed. I protect my personal calm by limiting what I ingest from the news.

Next, I give a small amount of money to causes that I believe in. I have limited money at my disposal. I cannot give great sums to every worthy cause, so I have chosen a few that I feel the most strongly about, and I donate there. It makes me feel good that I’m helping organizations who are battling for ideas that I believe in. Helping these organizations makes me feel like I’m a part of the fight, and in actuality, I am. I am very active in theatre in my city, so I support those organizations that bring live theatre to brighten our lives. Giving them small donations helps me feel good.

Finally, I take care of myself. This is my greatest contribution to making the planet a better place for all of us. When I concentrate on being the best possible me that I can, I know that my little bit of humanity is running smoothly. Honestly, isn’t that a great gift to give the world? I like being me, and I like making me a happy member of the world. I do it by living in recovery. I have a few pillars of my recovery that I work diligently to maintain: medication, meditation, exercise, therapy, and sleep.

I am lucky in that medicine works for me, so I take my medicine as prescribed. I have friends in recovery who maintain themselves other ways than medicine.

I am also an avid meditator. I have a set routine that includes a period of meditation, and I do it every morning without fail. Meditation gives me a calm center to cling to. When I feel emotions that encroach on my calm, I know I can return to the even feelings by just doing some simple breathing techniques.

Exercise is an important part of my recovery, too. I enjoy powerwalking, so I go out for a vigorous walk 4 mornings every week. I feel exhilarated each time. It’s such a joy!

I believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been involved with it for 30 years. I have a therapist that I tell absolutely everything to. I tell him about all the little things in my life that arise, and we talk about how they make me feel. I’ve discovered a lot of people don’t really understand the nature of a therapeutic relationship. A therapist is not like a medical doctor who assesses symptoms and administers a cure. Therapists cure no one. Instead, they listen to my situations, and then they guide me through a discussion, until I settle on my own cure. In essence, a therapist is a guide while I cure myself.

Finally, sleep is an amazing balm for me. I am adamant that I get adequate and high quality sleep every night. It resets all my inner world, and I can start each day fresh.

These things work for me. I hope you can find the pillars of your own recovery.

How to Help Someone with Depression

Today, a friend confided in me that her son has been diagnosed with clinical depression. It is a great honor that this friend trusts me with this information. We all come to mental illness with many ideas of what such a diagnosis means, and we all have to recognize that many of our ideas are true and some are not.

This friend is doing so many good things, and it reminded me of so much I’ve been through and how far I have come in my own recovery.

The son is also doing many hard things the right way. First, he sought help from his mother. He returned home where he could be nurtured and where he can heal. Next, he actually called a doctor himself. Then he did a very hard thing by going to his appointment with the doctor. Now, he’s continuing the hard work by taking the medicine prescribed. All these steps point to one vastly important bit to know. Since he’s actively reaching out for help, he wants to recover. With this attitude, he can get better.

I made some recommendations to my friend on how she can help her son.

1. She should use physical touch to maintain contact with him. Depression makes us feel so very lonely, and touch reminds us we are not alone.

2. She should encourage her son to exercise. A walk in the sunshine and fresh air will help him very much.

3. She should use ample positive reinforcement when he does anything to aid his own recovery like keeping doctor’s appointments or taking medicine as prescribed.

4. She should tell him often that he is worthy of recovery. Depression robs us of all our good feelings of self-worth and replaces those with hopelessness.

5. She should remind him often this is a disease, and there is no reason to feel ashamed.

6. She should mention often that his current feelings are not permanent. He can and will feel better with the help of a good doctor, good medicine, and helpful people.

7. She should help her son look for a good psychologist for talk therapy where he can learn many valuable tools to help him feel better.

8. Importantly, she must not neglect herself. The caregiver needs nurturing, too.

These ideas can be used by anyone to help another hurting from the disease of depression.

When Things Go Awry

I am teaching WRAP to a group. It’s my first time to facilitate a group instead of doing WRAP one-on-one with a client. We met for an hour last week to get started. I introduced myself, and we made a Comfort Contract for the class. A Comfort Contract is a group-directed list of guidelines to keep us all at ease talking to one another. I make these contracts with individual clients, too, but it’s vital for a group. Each member has to feel at ease.

We met again today, and we moved into the area of Triggers and a Trigger Action Plan. When a situation arises or an event occurs outside us that makes us feel particularly bad, it’s called a trigger. It may go so far as to worsen our symptoms. A very few examples of triggers include anniversary dates of losses or trauma, being overly tired, family friction, being judged or criticized, etc. The important thing to remember is that triggers are external to us.

In a WRAP class, we don’t stop at reminding us about the bad. We also gain power writing a Trigger Action Plan. An effective facilitator will reinforce this to the group. It’s easy to write a list of what makes us feel bad and have that snowball into actually experiencing the trigger. We take breaks, and we remember we are striving for recovery.

The Trigger Action Plan ideally contains some action to counter each triggering event or situation. Revisiting our Daily Maintenance List is high on the Action Plan. Are we doing everything we said that would keep us well? There are deep breathing exercises that anyone can learn to aid in getting through troubling emotions. Talking to a person we are close to is a valuable resource. Exercise cannot be underestimated in these situations either. The number of items on the Plan can go on and on.

The group went further today. We tackled the next section of WRAP, the Early Warning Signs and its accompanying E.W.S. Action Plan. While Triggers are external events that may cause us to feel bad, Early Warning Signs are internal. These signs indicate that all may not be well with us. Some examples are anxiety, forgetfulness, avoiding doing things on our Daily Maintenance List, increase in smoking, failing to buckle seat belt, etc.

The Early Warning Signs Action Plan is similar to the Trigger Action Plan. Each item relates to an Early Warning Sign. We may choose to meet anxiety with deep breathing or other relaxation exercises. Forgetfulness may cause us to renew our efforts at meditation. Avoiding doing things on our Daily Maintenance List is serious, and we may have to look deep and talk to a trusted friend about it. An increase in smoking may indicate a rise in stress, and we might decide to take extra rest and ask for assistance with responsibilities. Failing to buckle a seat belt is also serious, indicating a deeper issue that one might wish to bring up with a therapist or doctor.

Both Action Plans are important. They empower us. We don’t have to be hostage to our Triggers or to our emotions and their indicators.

It was at this point when things were winding down for the hour that something went awry for a participant. No sooner had I announced we were almost complete for the day, than she rushed from the room. Fortunately, this class took place at a center with lots of other people around, and one of the staff was soon by her side. She had not been feeling good since the morning, She bravely stated that her symptoms were worse. She was in distress, and the staff called an ambulance. I am sure she is now receiving the best care afforded by our local hospital.

I believe this incident illustrates why it is important to do WRAP with a certified facilitator and not alone. All people are vulnerable, and we with mental illness may have unique ones. A trained WRAP facilitator is often not a clinician but should have the experience to recognize a group member going off the beam, as it were.

The Good News

Followers of this blog will know that I have spent some time in mourning recently for a former lover who took his own life. I can report that I’m well on the way to healing. The initial shock was tremendous, but as with all things, time heals. There will be a memorial gathering for him in a week, and I will attend. I doubt I’ll share anything, but I will be there supporting my other friends.

On the job front, I can happily and loudly report that I passed my written and oral exams, and I am now a Certified Peer Specialist Intern in mental health. I can also shout out that I will start my internship at a local mental health clinic in early June.

I am going to a family reunion at the end of May, and I’m taking the opportunity by stretching my stay to have a nice long visit with my parents and family. When I get back from that trip, I’ll walk straight into my internship.

Things are really moving along quickly.

Things are not moving quickly in my romantic life. My beau lives two hours away, and I haven’t seen him since January. I was traveling too much for job training, and his job schedule keeps him very busy. We’ve spoken on the phone a number of times, and we’re still interested in each other. However, being apart does not make this easy. There’s no cuddling, and that makes me sad. At the same time, it makes for wonderful dreams of reuniting.

Through the statistics of this blog, I can view how people find me. One of the highest ranking terms is bipolar dating. To those searching for love and acceptance as a person with bipolar disorder or with a person who has it, I can safely assure you that it is possible to find a partner.

There is no magic pill to swallow that will make your perfect match appear, but then that’s true for everyone and not simply those with mental illness. While having a disability can add a layer of difficulty to the mixture, it’s not necessarily the defining factor. No person is solely defined by any one particular point, and we with mental illness are not either.

I truly believe in the tried and true formula of finding a mate the old-fashioned way. There are people in clubs who have similar interests and are also looking for companionship. Volunteering is a great way to meet others. The secret – and it’s no secret – is finding a way to get outside one’s head and open up to the possibilities  that abound all around us.

Opening up is easier said than done for some of us. I had my own long, dark period. It lasted for years, and every aspect of life was a chore or nearly impossible. I have been in that deep despair when simple acts of self-care like brushing my teeth were close to impossible. I clawed my way out with the help of loving caregivers, medication, and therapy. I did not do it alone.

All the time, I wondered where the right man for me was. It’s just a thought, but now I believe my focus should have been on being the right man for someone else.

When I take the focus off me, I win.

It is paradoxical, but it starts with loving me and spreading that. I give love more freely when I love me. I give more of me when I take care of my simple daily needs.

I no longer believe in countering negative self-talk with positive affirmations that I find unconvincing. I have no evidence from my past that looking at my reflection in the mirror and reciting clichés ever made me feel better. What worked? A lot of time and effort put into finding the right combination of medicine, meditation, exercise, and therapy from many loving caregivers.

This thought that I start from a place where I love me first is new. I was taught long ago that I had to ignore my inner voice and my feelings and only concentrate on the needs of others. I have no evidence that action ever helped me.

Today, I have abundant evidence that loving me allows me to then reach out and give. I struggled with guilt and shame for decades. Today, I live openly and honestly.

Today, I live in truth.

Week 2 of Job Training

The second week of job training starts tomorrow, and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to it so much that I only got five hours sleep last night. That’s not a good thing for me. I normally sleep nine whole hours. I’m concerned that it’s a sign of a swing toward mania.

I got some very good financial news recently, and I’m watching myself for signs of overspending. Spending sprees are a symptom of bipolar widely recognized by psychiatry. There’s nothing better than a whole day spent losing money I don’t have for this gay man. So far, the only luxury has been a dinner with one of my daughters at a cheap restaurant. I don’t think that’s overdoing it yet.

I’m taking my medication as prescribed. I am taking care of myself by brushing my teeth, etc. I am doing the daily maintenance called for in my WRAP.

Who am I kidding? I’m not faithfully following my WRAP. I’m neither meditating nor exercising. I am doing the other things on my Plan:

  • maintaining my sobriety
  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating healthy meals
  • chatting with my best friend
  • checking in with myself
  • talking to supporters
  • educating myself about my recovery and my illness
  • writing
  • being open about my sexuality

I am following those points on my Plan but not two important ones.

Meditating keeps me focused. Even a short five-minute session in the morning affects my mood for the whole day. I sit on a stool in my bedroom and breathe, and then I follow a well-worn path to my happy place, which you can read about here.

I want to exercise. I love walking. I love power walking to be precise. But I can’t right now. I’ve developed painful plantar faciitis, and simple walking around the house is difficult. The good news is that the job training requires me to travel and stay in a hotel with an exercise room. Perhaps there will be some machine there I can use. If I like it, I’ll check out the YMCA’s gym when I get home next week. Maybe I’ll join.

You know what? I’m really fine. I will meditate today and hobble around a local park for some fresh air. I’ve made — what are for me — earth-shattering changes in the last three weeks, and I am happy.

I am happy!

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? - Rumi

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? – Rumi

I Braved the Movie Theater

I have written in this blog about not being able to watch television for unknown reasons. It makes my brain twitch uncomfortably. I have avoided movies for the same reason. My brain throws a switch that makes my skull itchy inside. (You can find the blog entries by typing “I can’t watch TV” in the little search window on the right.) The crowds in movie theaters are also a deterrent.

I have seen three movies in the last month. It’s been amazing. I had to practice some deep breathing at points during each one, but I made it through. Last night was the most difficult. I saw Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about a bipolar man and his budding relationship with a troubled woman.

The movie begins with words on the screen announcing the upcoming scene as taking place in a psychiatric hospital. I tensed instantly. A group therapy circle unfolded on the screen with someone speaking gibberish about his hair. Another patient sat in his chair but had physical tics. The lead actor was composed but spouting loudly about finding good things in bad circumstances.

The movie twists and turns through the life of the lead actor. He moves back to his parents’ house, and immediately begins to obsess about his estranged wife. He meets an interesting, troubled woman, and they begin seeing each other. Their relationship revolves around his learning to dance. There are scenes finding the man up all night pouring through books only to toss them through a closed window into the street. He wakes his parents at odd hours to rant about wild things. He jogs a lot. The pair spark off each other, though their relationship remains platonic since the man insists he’s still married.

Some points of the movie were particularly wrenching for me to watch. When the lead actor maniacally reads, I was reminded of myself engrossed in books all day long. A crowd encircles the man at one point, and I found my heart pounding in real fear. I have been in the middle of crowded department stores and had to leave to breathe. He went on a painful, angry hunt for his wedding video, and I understood the drive, the single-minded mania. I have been in the situation where I had to accomplish a minor task at all costs and was thwarted.

There was quite a bit of violence in the movie. I’m very lucky that I’m not given to violent outbursts. I withdraw inwardly and use a great deal of negative self-talk.

The movie talked a lot about medication, and the lead character refused to take any. Some of his more egregious explosions prompted him to take medication, but the subject was treated poorly. Regular readers here know I am a strong advocate for taking medication to treat bipolar illness. I only speak for myself, but there’s no amount of prayer or meditation, no distance of running or walking, nor any length of talk-therapy or doctor visits that can control the hallucinations, the rapid thinking, or the burning brain. I need medicine. It’s plain and simple.

The movie ended happily. The boy got the girl. There was no hint of disability. All was right with the world, and I call, “Bullshit.” I’ve been manic about love in the past. If a relationship would fix me, I would be on every dating site around. People can’t fix me. If a relationship could fix the lead character in the movie, then why couldn’t his loving parents help?

Bipolar illness is tricky. I appreciate this cinematic portrayal. I intend to get the book and see if it may be different. I wish my happy ending would be so simple. I’d pay $10 for that.