Emotions aren’t permanent

I was sad this morning. Very sad. I was in the middle of it, and it seemed endless.

My best friend said, “Remembering that this too shall pass doesn’t make the pain any less.” In that second, I realized I’d forgotten that this would pass. Sitting in the middle of it, it felt permanent. That reminder helped ease my sadness slightly.

Then I hung out the laundry, and that action helped me feel much better, so I went for a speed walk and got some exercise. I feel much better now.

I am really grateful for the reminder that feelings aren’t permanent.

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Progress vs. Movement

I had a chat with a very special friend this morning. I mentioned that I’m moving deeper into releasing, allowing, and letting go. The chat proceeded, and I added

Progress, not perfection.

He replied,

I experience the present as I move through it, without the need to define it as “better” or “worse” or “growth” or whatever… It simply IS. And I am participating in it.

I stopped. There’s something in that. There’s movement in both sayings. A person starts at point A in their situation and goes to point B.

Progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” However, there is definitely an underlying notion to the word that means the movement is desirable. There’s an idea that the movement will lead to a better place.

My friend’s sentences do not have that underlying meaning, because he just used the word “move.” That word is simpler. It doesn’t have the ghosts that progress does.

I really like being free of the connotations. I really do.

At the same time, I really want to improve. I want the situations in my life to get better both externally and internally.

But I really want to release the need to measure my movement. I want to stop requiring myself to always achieve a level better than yesterday.

Oh! That would indeed be a profound bit of progress. To release the need to judge would be glorious! After all, measuring our movement – measuring our progress – is judging it. We apply the critical eye to ascertain the level of achievement in order to know how much approval to issue the mover.

I want to release the need to judge myself. I want to simply move.

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.

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.

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.

Invisibility

I have a job now. I’ve been working for about a year and a half. There are two of us in the office I work in, and we are both persons with lived experience with mental illness.

I lived on disability for twelve years. It was a long time, and some days were very difficult. It is very difficult to describe, but for those twelve years, I was invisible as far as society was concerned. I was not a contributor.

Make no mistake. I was not idle for those twelve years. I volunteered at the library’s literacy center teaching English as a Second Language. I was very active in the community theatre group where I lived. I even served on the group’s board of directors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m male, but since I was not being paid for this work, it was not highly valued.

I was invisible.

One payday not long after I started working again, I was holding my paystub, and my colleague in the office, the other person with lived experience, said, “It feels good to be paid, doesn’t it?” I quickly and loudly agreed. It felt quite amazing actually. I appreciated it like I’d never done before.

Today was my colleague’s birthday, and I arranged an office party for him with all the other people from the larger office. It was a pot luck, and everyone gladly brought food to share. It was a real feast. We had much too much food. The office refrigerator is bulging at the seams with all the leftovers.

A birthday party hardly seems like a special thing. On a grand scale, it is very small. Still, I was near tears. All these people were celebrating with a person with mental illness. There he was; I was right next to him. We weren’t invisible. We were considered valuable members of the group.

It’s a very big deal.

My Schpiel

New clients view me with a mixture of distrust and curiosity. I am usually introduced to them by a case worker who gives little information about me or about what I do. Initially, I am seen as part of the system.

I have to break through any figurative walls quickly and carefully to reach a level playing field where I can teach the skills I’ve learned. Passing along what has helped me is my whole reason for working. Giving the tools that help me stay well and not relapse into crisis is what being a Certified Peer Specialist is all about. It’s my job.

In training, I was coached on how to introduce myself. I was given the Five Key Concepts and directed to use them when I meet a new client or group. Those concepts are

  • Hope
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Education
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Support

My introductory pitch to a new person is important. It will determine how we are going to interact. Once the mood is set, it is difficult to change it. I have to be vigilant in my own recovery and follow my own WRAP daily to be ready for these precious meetings. They are precious. Each meeting and each session and each client is a gift to my recovery. I heal freely sharing what I was taught.

My schpiel or pitch is conducted completely using “I” statements. It’s my story. It’s never exactly the same, but it meanders along an outline something like what follows:

When I was diagnosed with a mental illness 12 years ago, I was devastated. I felt like I’d hit a brick wall with no possibility of going around or over it. I lost my job, the respect of my family and many friends, and my self-respect. I felt utterly worthless. My life as it had been was over, and I felt damaged. What’s worse was I felt abandoned by society as a whole. I was an outcast.

I had many dark times. There were days when I had no energy to get out of bed except for the most rudimentary needs. There was a time I wouldn’t leave my apartment for days. I despaired that things would never improve.

I had no hope. Darkness swallowed me.

Luck put a group of loving friends in my life. They listened to my complaints and distracted me with silly card games and other activities. They dragged me into the sunshine when all I wanted was to stay locked behind my door. I also had a kind prescribing psychiatric nurse practitioners and at other times good psychiatrists. I have been extremely lucky to be in therapy with a highly regarded psychologist. All these people gave me a few tools to get through each day.

They showed me that hope was possible. Trying different combinations of medicine gave me ideas that I could improve. Getting out to socialize even in simple settings like the coffee shop was a labor for me, but I did it regardless of my internal desires. I began to exercise. I clung to my friends. I renewed my interest in meditation or guided visualization. I began to see how taking care of my most basic needs was an act of self-love.

Hope rekindled in me. It was slow, and over the course of years, I realized that I had a stake in making me feel better. I was miserable, and I wanted not to be. Those little daily tasks like taking my medicine, socializing, exercising, and meditating became a mantra of sorts. I saw that I had to take some responsibility if I wanted to feel good.

I also had a lot to learn. I was fortunate growing up to have an older sister who worked in the mental health field. I knew a lot about the importance of taking medicine each day. I heard about her experiences with patients, and I knew I did not want to be sick. I wanted good mental health, and I had to educate myself on my illness. Living with the Internet, this process was much easier than just a few years ago. I had a wealth of information at my fingertips, and I used it.

I began using the new information I’d gleaned from the Internet and books and sundry other resources to talk to my healthcare providers about my treatment. I became an active participant. Looking my psychiatrist in the face and stating plainly that I wanted help with a particular problem altered my life. I was a force in my own decision making. I was not a pawn of any system.

Finally, I permitted myself to have a group of supporters who have my best needs at heart. Today, I have an excellent prescribing nurse practitioner, and we work closely together on my medication needs and talk openly about events in my life. I have a top-notch therapist that I’ve known for over twenty years. I have a case worker who is one of my greatest cheerleaders. I have loving children. I have friends who truly love and support me in my endeavors.

I have a new lease on life.

The above is a broad example of my schpiel or introduction. It’s tailored for each setting and each new client, but it’s my joyous responsibility to follow the Five Key Concepts and model them in my life.

If there is anything I would like to emphasize it is regaining hope. Without it, I was lost. I cannot say enough how thrilled I am to do the work I do, to live the life I have, and to practice my own recovery. Today, I am hope-full.