Courage is not the absence of fear. It is walking forward despite the fear.
I only have to do one thing.
I don’t have to feel completely better all at once.
I don’t have to completely heal all at once.
I can take just one small step toward feeling better and healing.
I don’t have to be cheerful and bubbly if I don’t feel like it.
I can choose to smile for just one second. I can choose to feel that smile on my face for just one second.
This morning I get to take one step forward.
Just one. That’s all I have to do right now. Just one.
I had disembodied anxiety this morning. I couldn’t put my finger on where it was coming from.
I found myself using ineffective coping mechanisms to try to lessen the anxiety.
During my morning break at work, I went to a nearby cathedral where I sat for a short meditation. In that state, I realized this is the energy of a new kind of dating life that I’m wanting to experience. There are a lot of unknowns around my dating life at the moment, and my body was reading this ambiguity as anxiety.
I now recognize the energy as the creation of this new dating life. The energy is still there, but it doesn’t feel like anxiety any more. It’s just a kind of rustling in my stomach. It’s a little pleasant actually.
All of us have moods. We have to realize they’re not permanent.
Today, I was reminded that there is a lot of good in the world. There are people around us with genuinely good hearts.
Sometimes, our individual lives feel bereft of reasons to smile. Sometimes, our lives are sad.
Let’s each one of us create a reason to smile today.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be incredibly simple.
If you stand up out of your chair and walk outside and turn your face to the sun, that’s a wonderful reason to smile. If you choose a tea you like and make yourself a soothing cup, that’s a delicious, warm reason to smile. If you have a friend, thank them and smile. If you pick up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, that’s an excellent reason to smile.
Our world can be overwhelming.
With a little act, we can each create reasons to smile.
Healing takes courage. It’s hard work to face our challenges no matter where they come from and turn them into opportunities.
We are brave when we call a doctor or case manager or a friend who supports us just to report on how we feel.
We are brave when we make an appointment with a caregiver.
We are brave when we leave the house to go to that appointment. We are brave when we ride the bus or drive our car or ride our bicycle or walk to that appointment.
We are brave as we sit and wait our turn to see the caregiver.
We are brave when we speak honestly to the caregiver about how we feel. Being honest takes the most courage.
We are brave as we follow through on the things we know will help our recovery.
To be blunt, people who live with mental illness are brave when they breathe. Life is not simple.
If you are a person who lives with a mental illness, be kind to yourself and pat yourself on the back just for getting out of bed. You deserve it. You’re doing a good job just living.
One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.
Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.
Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.
It really is a miracle just to be alive.
If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?
Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.
Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.
Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.
Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.
One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.
Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.
I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.
He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”
I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.
My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.
I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.
His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.
This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”
I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.
“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.
He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.
I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.
Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.
We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.
It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.