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.

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It’s Time

I am opening up and moving into the future. This was my status today on a social network:

2013 was a momentous year for me. I participated in intensive training to become a Hawaii Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, which led to a 3-month internship at the state-run East Hawaii Community Mental Health Center. All this culminated this fall in receiving full certification in the field from the state.

What most people don’t seem to fully grasp is the word “peer”. It means an equal. What I want to announce for the first time to all who care to listen is that I am an equal to the people I work with. I have a mental illness, too.

Mental illness is surrounded by stigma all over the world, and I have allowed that shadow to keep myself in the dark to everyone but a very few close friends and family members. I’ve been in hiding, and it is a burden I have carried since I was diagnosed 12 years ago.

Today, I choose to lift that shadow from my life. I have a mental illness. I am very lucky to live in the time and place that I do. I receive excellent medical attention, I have a medication regimen that enables me to live a fulfilling life, and I have support from many who know me.

Here at the end of 2013, I leave behind the shame that accompanies so many people diagnosed with mental illness. I march forward into 2014 with a clean slate ready to write a new future. I am happy, and I am loved.

I am opening up on this blog, too. I have been anonymous here for almost four years. It’s time to leave the fear and the shame behind. My name is Jake, and I live in Hawaii.

Life Couldn’t Be Better

My internship at my job is finished, and I am pleased to report it was a success for all involved. I received high marks on my final evaluation from my superiors at the clinic where I worked. One called me a gem. The other praised not only my ability working with a wide range of clients but also with my demeanor, too. She appreciated my work and me as a person. It was quite humbling.

I’ve gone from periods of isolation and severe depression to days of acting out improperly on all my urges. That was me not too long ago. I know mental illness. I live with it, and today, I can happily report it does not rule my life.

What changed? My medication regimen works, and I got into a job training program that gives me fulfillment. And WRAP happened. We worked our own WRAPs in the first 2 days of our job training, and my world turned over. That awful voice present for decades vanished. For me, WRAP is a miracle.

If you have mental illness and are interested in recovery, you can find a WRAP facilitator by clicking here.

In my final days of the internship, I finished working with the WRAP group and was able to hand out some Certificates of Achievement to the participants. It was quite rewarding. The smiles of all around were contagious, and the memory makes me smile now. The group came up with some great thoughts throughout the sessions. We continued with the section called “When Things Are Breaking Down” and its relevant Action Plan, and then we launched into the long Crisis Plan.

That section of WRAP is formidable. It gives the writer a chance to think deeply about how they want their care to be structured should they be in real crisis and need careful treatment by professionals. It includes pages for listing supporters and their roles and a place to write down names of people who should not be consulted for any help during a crisis. There are pages for listing doctors and other healthcare professionals and medications that one takes.

Desired treatment facilities and hospitals get their own pages, and finally there is a page for detailing when the Crisis Plan should be inactivated. After that, there is a whole section called the “Post Crisis Plan.” It is long and involved and many of the questions cannot be answered until one has been through the crisis.

The group was engaged and attentive and eager. They worked hard and earned their final certificates. I am glad to have been a part of their experience. It made me happy.

Once the work was finished and the internship was over, I spoke at length by phone with the head of the training I’d completed. He was complimentary, and then he dropped the bombshell. They are working on hiring me on a limited contractual basis to lead groups using various resources, until they can maneuver the state bureaucracy to hire me in a regular job.

They want me.

They like me.

I can’t begin to relate my joy knowing that I am a success. The voices in my head told me all my life I was worthless. I’m not. I have value. I had it all along. Now, I have found a place to help and to be a part of an organization whose goal is to help. I am the face of mental health recovery.

WRAP’s Daily Maintenance List

Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) has seven parts:

  • The Wellness Toolbox
  • The Daily Maintenance List
  • Triggers/Trigger Action Plan
  • Early Warning Signs/E.W.S. Action Plan
  • When Things Are Breaking Down and its Action Plan
  • Crisis Plan
  • Post Crisis Plan

All sections of an individual’s WRAP are vital, and the Daily Maintenance List may be the most important. It is referred to often in the action plans that accompany the other sections. When we experience a Trigger or feel an Early Warning Sign, we are reminded to check our Daily Maintenance List for ways to return to a calmer frame of mind.

A Daily Maintenance List has three parts. First is “what I’m like when I’m well.” This part allows us to recognize we have times of stability and good mental health. It gives us the opportunity to feel good about us. We are encouraged to list our strengths, such as cheerful, bright, energetic, introverted, talkative, etc. These words become part of our WRAP’s foundation, reminding us that we can be well. It’s a great way to feel better about us, and that’s no easy task on some dark days.

“Things I do for myself daily” is the second part of the Daily Maintenance List. In this part, we are encouraged to write down actions we perform everyday to remain stable and healthy. Here, we can list activities such as the small pieces of personal hygiene, like brushing our teeth or showering. Taking our medication as prescribed might be an important part of this list. Other daily necessities might include meditation, exercise, drinking plenty of water, chatting with friends, etc. The important point here is to keep the items specific and relevant to daily life. This section needs to be read once a day. Doing the things written here will help stave off feeling poorly.

The final part of the Daily Maintenance List is “things I might do for myself daily.” In this section, we are encouraged to jot down things that aren’t absolutely necessary but may be important. The list might be made up of some of the following: make an appointment with a caregiver, call a relative, clean a part of my house, etc. These extras are important, but they might not have to be done daily to maintain stability and calmness.

Why is having a thorough Daily Maintenance List important? I believe it grounds us. It gives us a center to attempt completing every day to stay well. It’s that simple and that complex.

Staying well is not easy for us with mental illness. We need all the tools we can get, and the Daily Maintenance List in one’s WRAP is an excellent beginning.

Completing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan can be a truly life-changing experience. It changed mine for the better. Here’s a word of caution, however. It is not to be taken lightly, and it is strongly suggested that all of us seek out a knowledgeable WRAP facilitator to complete the Plan individually or in a group setting. Writing WRAP can bring up negative emotions and memories, and having a calm trained guide there to ease one through these painful moments is key.

There is much more information about WRAP on Mary Ellen Copeland’s superb website.

Work and Life Continue

Work and life go hand in hand. Humans are constantly engaged in something. Simple activities like watching television keep us occupied. Harder ones require more energy to perform. Humans do things; we don’t simply exist.

I’m thrilled to say that two months of my three-month internship are winding down. I have spent a great deal of time teaching the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and it has reinforced to me its value. I had a disappointing romantic experience recently, and negative thoughts started barreling inside my head. I talked it over thoroughly with a close friend. I checked my WRAP. I forced myself to accomplish some tasks around my house that I didn’t want to do. In the end, the thoughts subsided, and I felt calm.

The client I mentioned previously who had a combative session with me keeps returning to his appointments. I am really happy about that. He’s finding some value in our time and work together. He’s reaching out. I would like to think he’s expanding his ideas of what might work in his own life. He still likes to debate, but the combative tone was limited to the one time only.

I continually mention to all my clients that I’m a person with a mental illness, too. I’m not a doctor or any other kind of clinician.

Recently, I drove thirty minutes to a rural clinic to meet with a young man and do WRAP with him. He entered the room and sat stiffly with his arms crossed tightly guarding his chest. He was uncomfortable. I have to add I was just as nervous.

Why? Traveling gives me anxiety. Driving worries me. I have a real phobia of parking lots. The morning of my thirty-minute trip, I was simply scared. I spoke long and honestly about my fears to a close friend, and she asked what my WRAP would have me do? I thought about the Daily Maintenance List in the front of my WRAP, and I determined that I had not meditated that morning or for many days actually.

I went to my room and moved my meditation stool into the place I like. I sat and closed my eyes and concentrated on getting to my happy place. There I released my worry. I breathed deeply and calmly. It was not a long time nor did I reach any epiphanies, but I came out of the meditation with my spirits restored. It worked. I felt better.

My job at the rural clinic was to teach WRAP to this one young man who was obviously as fearful as I had been earlier. I did not let his emotions distract me. I launched into my opening introduction about me and the Plan. His arms dropped, and his face relaxed. When he knew I was there for his benefit without an agenda, he became an eager participant. Lo and behold, we finished his WRAP in one sitting. It was amazing and energized me. His case worker was similarly astounded.

I have finished Plans with three individuals now. One woman was so grateful to get her Certificate of Achievement after finishing she nearly cried. It was the only such certificate she had ever received. It is a privilege for me to work with these peers. I grow, too.

I have only about one more month before my internship is finished, and then I will be a fully certified Peer Specialist. My life is utterly different than three years ago when I wrote about my pain. I am working, and I’m happy about that. What a change!

Recovery works. It really works.

Family Time and the Bipolar Mind

I am a person recovering with bipolar disorder, and I have a noisy, nosy, and loving family. I am one of the oddities. I’m gay, I have a mental illness, and I do not shy away from discussing either of those two subjects.

I like being gay. It’s who I am, and since I’ve come to accept it, I am more at home with my emotional self.

I do not like having bipolar disorder, but what am I going to do about it? Seriously. This blog is over three years old, and it details many harrowing experiences and unhealthy habits of living with the illness. It also shows good evidence for the case of recovery from mental illness. I have grown from a suicidal, frightened person to one filled with hope looking to the future and expecting a good life.

I have traveled very far from the comfort of my cottage near the blue sea to the very first family reunion my clan has ever had, other than gathering at weddings and funerals. We are here to laugh and rejuvenate old bonds.

Sitting at the small airport waiting to board my first of several flights, fear gripped me. My mind was clouded, and my thoughts were not calm. I used deep breathing and some mild meditation to regain serenity. I managed to sleep on the plane, giving me a respite. Happily, the trip was without incident.

My son, my mother, and one of my sisters met me on arrival at my destination airport, and joy filled me. Really, gratitude is all I can think of for these people I love and have loved for so many years.

At home, attitudes changed a bit, and some of the party began to behave in ways that demonstrated fine layers of underlying animosity and disappointment. I did not change my demeanor of love and acceptance. I have learned much over my years of recovery and these months of recent study:

  • I cannot change others.
  • I can accept love.
  • I can reject what causes me fear.
  • From a place of healthy love for me, I can offer love.
  • I cannot force others to accept my love.
  • Hope is the greatest gift I can share.

Notions like these listed and more give me the fortitude necessary to meet family. My group like countless others is a curious bunch. They have questions, and they are not shy. They laugh and hug and shake hands.

They question.

Armed with self-knowledge and self-acceptance, I meet them and give freely. I hold back nothing. I laugh at the jokes and make some of my own. Politics rears its head, and I mean the kind on the family level. I slipped into the old familiar ways of taking sides, but I quickly realized my error and gave apologies and walked away.

Avoidance or walking away may appear cowardly to some, but it is actually a healthy coping mechanism for my bipolar mind. I can focus or think or practice a quick meditation to gain a sense of steadfastness, and I can reenter the fray.

Family gatherings are a minefield for the bipolar mind. People with mental illness often lack the ordinary coping mechanisms others use effortlessly. We must learn:

  • Recognizing emotions that are healthy and ones that are overreacting.
  • Understanding how our bodies show us our emotions.
  • Releasing emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Simply enjoying ourselves.
  • Creating boundaries that accept love and reject fear.

I am enjoying myself at my family reunion. I have not been prefect. I have engaged in some discussions that were wrong. To put in bluntly, I’ve gossiped. The growth I have experienced, though, allows me to know it and move past it. I now can right any wrongs and return to the task at hand: having fun.

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.