It Works!

With a sigh of relief, I can say the tools for getting back into a better frame of mind work. Yesterday, I was struggling, as I wrote. It was not a good day at all. I was stressed and not dealing with it well at all. I used the tools that I know work. I meditated early and went for a good speed walk to get my self moving. I went to the cathedral down the street for a break and for my lunch break. I was able to meditate very briefly once, but the rest of the time I just sat. I made an extra appointment to see my therapist, and luckily he had an opening in the late afternoon.

Before that session, I chatted with my best friend about my turmoil. I could easily say that I understood the cause of my discontent was in me. I knew it was. I’ve been doing all this too long to try to blame it on something around me. An AA text The 12 and 12 states it correctly: whenever we are disturbed no matter what the cause, the problem lies in us.

I really was disturbed. My negative self-talk was working overtime. The voice in my head was saying I’d ruined my life and I was worthless. I was feeling really bad.

A very important tool for me is chatting with my best friend. He’s smart about these things. I was able to tell him that I knew I was the source of all the discord inside, and he invited me to look at all the good ways I was using my tools to feel better. He was absolutely right. I was doing a lot of good for myself. I was doing a good job of taking care of myself, but I couldn’t seem to say it.

My therapist has been helping me see the exact same thing, and he is now helping me change some of the things I say to myself. Instead of saying that I’m nuts, I can say I’m feeling a lot of stress. I like this a lot more than saying happy things while looking at myself in the mirror. That never worked for me. I know it works for some people, but I couldn’t get it to stick for me. So I’m going to take the reality of the situation, but instead of using words that demean me, I’m going to rephrase it into truth that is not degrading.

Last night I took an antianxiety medicine that I have for situations just like this, and I got a good night’s sleep. My meditation this morning was really good. I got some good breaths in between the wandering thoughts, and I went for a good speed walk. On the bus this morning, I was able to chat briefly with the man I’m dating, who was my ex and now is not my ex. It felt good. It wasn’t important stuff, but the connection felt good.

There are many things we can use as tools to help us through our difficult times when we feel bad about ourselves and our lives and the world around us. These are some of the things that work for me. I hope you can find little activities that work for you.

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.

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.