Coming From a Place of Self-Love

I’ve had a reason to think about my love for myself the past couple of days. I was challenged in an online forum by another individual who was writing very mean-spirited things directed at me. Remarkably, I was unfazed. It did not register at all.

Suddenly, I realized I have come a long way. The reason I was unfazed is that the other person’s opinion of me truly did not matter. I read her insults, and they passed right through my consciousness without sticking to any particular place.

Two years ago, I would have been very hurt. Last year, I would have been angry. Right now, that person does not matter one iota. I am sitting in my chair actually enjoying my day.

This stranger’s opinion is meaningless, because I do not receive my sense of self-worth from any other human being breathing on the planet. I give my high sense of self-worth to myself, and no one can assail it.

I got here through meditation. Try it.

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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.

Meditation

I meditate every morning. It is without a doubt the single most important thing I do.

There is a lot of myth and misunderstanding surrounding meditation. I think the first myth is that to meditate correctly, you have to empty your mind. I don’t, but I have achieved remarkable effects with meditation even though I still have a series of thoughts flitting across my consciousness. Another myth is that one must sit cross legged. I sit on a stool. I think the most damaging myth may be that meditation is only for saints. We can all benefit from even short amounts of meditation done regularly.

I began meditating more than thirty years ago. It was never regular. I went for many months meditating daily, and then I took a break. I’m not sure how many years now it’s been a morning habit, but that’s what it has become. It is my morning start.

The first thing I would like to tell all is that meditation does not have to be long. Most mornings, I meditate for only ten or fifteen minutes. In that time, I gain great focus that gives me an unshakably calm center that I carry through the day.

I am going to take you through the steps I use in meditation. You can build your own steps. There are only a few things that are perhaps required. The necessities are first to sit with the back erect but the body is relaxed. Second, breathe evenly. The final necessity is something that comes with a bit of time. It is the ability to allow thoughts their space, observe them, but to remain detached from them. What I’m trying to say is that we give thoughts their space, but we do not invest our selves in those thoughts. Perhaps this third point will become easier to understand as we look at my steps of mediation.

I have a special stool that I use for meditation. My first step is to sit on it. I adjust myself, until I feel comfortable. My feet are firmly on the floor, and my back is erect. My head is erect, too.

I close my eyes. There are some meditation traditions that teach to keep the eyes open. I taught myself how to meditate, and closed came naturally. I’m also coming to this with a mental illness, so I need as little distraction as possible.

I relax. I have been meditating for many decades, so this is almost instantaneous now. If you’re new, you can start with your toes and relax your entire body as you go up to your head. Do it slowly, one area at a time. However, keep your back erect with your head firmly in line with your back. It will sound like a paradox, but it’s possible to do that and remain relaxed.

I breathe evenly. Sometimes, I begin by breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. This is cleansing. Once I’m breathing evenly and it feels right, I take in a long breath counting to eight as I do. I also count to eight on the exhale.

I make a connection. This step works for me. It came naturally to me, but it is not part of any formal meditative tradition. I connect myself to the Earth by imagining a cord of red light from Earth’s center to me. I imagine a cord of white light connecting me to the Universe/Heaven. I am where those two meet.

I clear myself of any attachments I may have made. Again, this works for me. You get to decide what your meditation is going to be like. I imagine that I have layers of energy stuck on me. I make a cut from my head to my feet in these layers of energy, and I ask angels to peel them off. It’s slow, but I feel lighter when it’s done. I’m in the habit of doing this a second time very close to my body. I like to think I’m removing the layers of my own thoughts that I cling to.

Now, I breathe with focus. It is at this time that I really focus on my breathing. I try to concentrate on how the air is entering my nose. I also concentrate on how my belly and my chest may be moving. I continue breathing, and I continue focusing.

Thoughts come. I may remember a conversation I had on the phone, or I may think about a task I have to do that day. Here’s what I’ve learned about thoughts: I cannot turn them off. Here’s another thing I’ve learned: I no longer try to turn them off. I allow them to do their work. I allow them to have their space and time. But I do not attach myself to them.

In our normal waking life, we experience events, and we assign emotions to accompany our experiences. Let’s think of driving in heavy traffic. There are many things to be aware of all at the same time, and there are many emotions that accompany all that awareness. There are the rude drivers around us, and there are the kind ones, too. Our reactions to those other drivers represent our attachments to our own feelings. We remind ourselves we are alive by living in the midst of a continuous stream of emotions.

In meditation, I have learned to allow my thoughts to have their space, but I do not choose to attach an emotion to any given thought. I am detached.

That lesson was not quick, and I must relearn it often. Many times when I meditate, a thought about an experience will arise that I have strong feelings about, and the emotions come.

Here again, I do not try to stop the emotions. I give them their space. I allow them to exist. I do not fight the discomfort. Instead, I pay very close attention to the place where the emotions are living. Is the discomfort about the difficult experience in my belly or my chest or my throat or my head? Is it somewhere outside me?

I picture the difficult discomfort. I give it shape or motion. Sometimes it’s a black sludge in my belly. Sometimes it’s a swirling column of air like a tornado in my torso. Sometimes it’s a heavy cube in my head. I let the discomfort tell me what shape it has. I allow it to come to me.

Now, I call on angels again to come remove the discomfort and fill the space it leaves with light. They do it every time. The discomfort may return, but I can ask for it to be removed each and every time. There is no limit on how many times I can ask for assistance. It is limitless. This helps me feel very light and clear.

After a bout of discomfort, I return to focusing on my breathing. I again focus on how the air enters my nose and my expanding belly and chest and then on the falling belly and chest and the air leaving my nose. There is no limit to how many times my focus wanders and returns. I am not failing when my focus wanders. I am not doing it wrong, if I have to return to my focus a thousand times during ten minutes of sitting.

If you are sitting with your back and head erect and if you are attempting to focus on your breathing, you cannot fail. With just those few necessities, you cannot fail.

I hope these words help.

Here, I go to My Happy Place. You can read about it here. That’s an old entry, and My Happy Place has evolved, but it’s still relevant. It’s important for me to mention that guided visualization is a type of meditation that I used for a very long time especially during periods when my mind simply would not be quiet in any meaningful way. My Happy Place gives me great comfort after all these years. If you want to create your own Happy Place, you get to decide what it looks like.

You are in charge of how you want your recovery to go. Meditation is a vital part of mine. Perhaps it could help you, too.

Interesting Changes

I took a break from writing for a while, and some things in my life have changed.

One startling change is that I have started to watch a television show. Many regular readers know I have been seemingly allergic to all varieties of television shows. I had a physical reaction to the machine that rendered me incapable of sitting through anything. I also avoided videos online, though this was not universal.

You can read about my difficulty watching television here, here, and here. It was a real handicap, and I have met other people with bipolar disorder who had the same experience. Television caused a switch in my brain to click that incapacitated me.

I have started to watch the new series called Cosmos with the host Neil deGrasse Tyson. In fact, I haven’t missed an episode of it. I enjoy it greatly. I sat down apprehensively to watch the first episode, and I was pleasantly engrossed. I have not felt the old click in my head that forced me to stand and pace or even leave the room. I am very happy with this change.

I have another pleasant change to report. I have had a spiritual shift, and I am now able to experience my emotions with more detachment. When emotions arise, especially the heavy, negative ones, I can observe them, give them the attention they deserve, and watch them pass. I still feel everything a normal person feels, but I don’t succumb to them. They no longer overwhelm me.

I had an occasion to witness this closely just two days ago. An event occurred that made me very sad. My feelings were hurt. I endured the sadness for a whole day, but it did not incapacitate me. I meditated on the event. I recognized the sadness. I welcomed it even. I did not fight the emotion. I simply let it sit in my being, and I watched it.

It was there all day, but as I lay down that night to sleep, I knew it would be gone when I woke the next morning. I was correct.

Many readers may be wondering how I made this spiritual change. I did it through meditation. I sat on my special stool and went to my happy place. While I was relaxed and letting my mind concentrate on itself in my happy place, I asked my Higher Self if it would like to be part of my everyday existence here and now. My Higher Self obliged. I now maintain a conscious connection with this part of me that is new. I walk taller according to my therapist.

This new connection has given me a new perspective on many things. I have a firmer sense of self-respect. I know my worth. I suffered from low self-esteem for decades. That has miraculously vanished. My thoughts are clearer. When negativity arises, I ask it where it came from, observe it, play with it at times, and let it pass.

I am growing, and I like it. I celebrate me today.

I Still Have Bipolar Disorder

My bipolar life is a storybook success at present. I’ve just finished a period in which I received free job training and then a three-month paid internship, for which I was highly rated. I am actively involved in community theatre where I live, and I’m well-respected for it. I acted in a play recently, and now I’m directing another one that will hit the boards in November. Plus, I will be directing Shakespeare next summer, and that takes a year-long preparation. It’s a major undertaking. On top of it all, I’m writing and reading. I have dreams of a book with my name on it.

Last weekend, I went to see a play produced by the community theatre organization I work with. The play is a true smash hit. Eight of the nine performances have been totally sold out, and they are trying to figure out how to extend the run one more weekend.

My daughter and I arrived early to get good seats in the theatre. We took our programs and sat in the front row. I put on my reading glasses and buried my head in the very informative program made for the historical drama we were about to watch.

After reading the program, I put my glasses away and looked at the stage before us. Then I felt it. The theatre was nearly full, and the house manager was looking for empty seats for people waiting at the door. There was a crush of humanity around me. I didn’t have to turn around and look. I could feel them.

My stomach churned; my chest tightened. I began to squirm in my chair, and my thoughts began to race.

I was getting very near a panic attack, and I haven’t had one in ages. I thought of the Klonopin at home in my medicine chest. It was useless to me in my situation.

So, I thought of WRAP. I tried to remember what was on my Triggers Action Plan for just these situations. Crowds can cause me to panic, and they are listed as a trigger for me. Thankfully, WRAP does not stop with the knowledge of what hurts us, but we make an action plan for each item in case they arise. In the case of panic due to a crowd, I remembered to concentrate on slow breathing and to feel my body .

I took methodical breaths, and I placed my mind on exactly where my feet were and then how the chair felt and then the temperature in the room. I soothed my racing mind by giving it clear, concise things to think on.

My panic was not rising, but it was not easing either. Luckily, the play began, and the action whisked me away with its story.

I came away from the experience enriched. I survived a near panic attack.

I can see now that I have built strategies for dealing with triggers. For example, I hate large parking lots. I have an unreasonable fear of them. As a result, I learned many years ago to visualize driving into the parking lot, going down a certain row, and taking the first available space. It works for me. As a result, I am able to enter large parking lots without the unpleasant emotions.

My last post may have sounded smug. I was reminded that while things may be going well, I still have an illness. More importantly, I learned I have strategies to help today. They may not be foolproof, but they give me hope.

Overcoming my Fears

A reader recently asked me how I’d overcome my fears. I have to say I haven’t overcome all of them. The inquirer asked about my acting and whether or not I experienced anxiety before going on stage. He also asked about a number of other nerve-wracking situations. The questions were so good I thought they deserved to be answered publicly.

I am always nervous before I perform on stage, but I’ve been acting in amateur theater since I was six years old, which is decades before the onset of my mental illness. I long ago learned how to manage stage fright, and it’s not too different from what I do for most of my anxiety these days. I use deep breathing, I rely on the knowledge that I’m well prepared, and I remember my past successes.

These small mechanisms allow me to participate in a great passion of mine. I adore live theater. It is my favorite hobby, and I don’t know what I would do without it. When I was diagnosed, I was in the middle of rehearsals for a play. I was out on disability leave from my stressful sales job, because I had a breakdown. Still, I was doing a play. It sustained me, and honestly, I had no one else to turn to at the time for support. I was separated from my wife, which led to a divorce. I did not have a lover of any kind. My sponsor in the 12-step program dropped me like a lead weight at the onset of my symptoms. I was alone. Rehearsing and performing gave me something beneficial to focus on.

Another question from this astute reader dealt with my inability to watch television and other visual media. I can report little improvement there, and I can’t explain it. When the machine is on, I often have to take refuge in my bedroom. No amount of deep breathing gets me through that fear. I avoid videos on the Internet, and if I’m going to the movies, I often have to take a very small dose of the anti-anxiety medication prescribed for me. Taking such a dose at my own discretion does not violate the nurse’s guidelines. I am instructed to use it as necessary within certain daily limits.

He also wanted to know about how I fare in crowded places. Early on, I was paralyzed with fear of entering malls and large, busy department stores. I managed by making detailed shopping lists, which I could not deviate from. I got my items as they appeared on the list and in order. It didn’t matter if it was a grocery list, for example, and the items didn’t match the order of the store’s layout. I had to follow my list and often walked from one end of the store to the other fetching the items.

There was one occasion in a large store where the crowds and my children’s desires overwhelmed me. I had to abandon my shopping cart and leave. I could not cope.

My fears of these crowded places reaches to the parking lots. I am still scared of them. It’s an unreasonable fear, and I have a specific way of managing it. I use guided visualization. Before I go to a place with a large, busy parking lot, I imagine driving through it. I choose the exact lane of the parking lot I want to drive down. I know beforehand where I will turn. I continue to imagine where I will park and how I will walk into the store. It works. It is an effective technique for accomplishing this mundane task.

I can happily say I don’t have to use mental gymnastics to such an extent today, since I’ve been doing it for a number of years. However, I still avoid certain parking lots where there are few entrances and exits. I like the ones with many ways in and out.

A number of years ago, I tried to go back to work in the high-stress world of sales. It was not a good idea to say the least. The constant barrage of having to hit targets and numbers left me catatonic on my couch. I could not leave my apartment to report for daily activities. It only took two or three months, but I learned that I cannot work in areas that cause high anxiety again. I enjoyed driving alone in my car from one sales call to the next, but I often sat unable to enter the place of business I’d been sent to approach. My solution at that time was to leave the job. It was the best thing all around.

My new work as a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health is a much better fit for me. It’s part-time, so I can still rest. I also get to concentrate on simply sharing my experience, strength, and hope that recovery is possible. I have to say I am blessed in this position. I have supportive supervisors who gently urge me to succeed. My co-workers are understanding and helpful, and the clients are often receptive and eager to heal. It’s really an exciting prospect for me as I stand at the beginning of my new working life.

There were other questions from my interested readers, and I’ll answer those to him personally. I wanted to share these with a larger audience. Please, feel free to leave comments on any of my posts, which I will reply to as best I can. If you desire more wide-ranging information, you can use the contact form to reach me. I’ll do my best to answer each request.

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.