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.

Working with my Peers

Life is for living. I am devoted to the notion that recovery from mental illness is possible. I have been trained to work with my peers and model recovery. I began my internship about a month ago as a part of my certification process. The clinic I am assigned to has me working one-on-one with clients developing their Wellness Recovery Action Plans. Some are very enthusiastic about the idea of WRAP, and some are not. Many are indifferent.

WRAP changed my life. It rid me of years of negative self-talk. When the negative thoughts return on those rare occasions now, I can let them be, observe them, acknowledge them, and simply let them go. They have no weight like they did in the past. I don’t feel their burden.

I have two clients who desperately want to recover and regain a life resembling what they lost before they were diagnosed with mental illness. It’s a joy to work with them and watch them grow. I encourage clients to decorate their WRAP folders. Using creativity marks them as their own. One man placed stickers on his folder in a careful grid. Most clients draw. One young man used magazine pictures to demonstrate where he hoped to go with his life. Their creativity is limitless.

And then there is the one client who is argumentative. He told me the first time we met he would question everything we discussed. Yesterday, he crossed from argumentative to combative. He began by voicing his displeasure at our starting time. He debated about the posters on the walls. He took issue with the idea of recovery itself.

I thanked him for his ideas, and I tried to steer the conversation to our task of working on his WRAP, which he then proclaimed “lame.”

I thanked him again and confronted him with my own experience with WRAP. He changed the subject.

This client wants something in life to cling to. He has no family. He has no friends. What’s worse is he is almost chronically suicidal. Yesterday, he was like a wounded animal striking back at anything moving near it.

I am a Certified Peer Specialist Intern working with others who have severe and persistent mental illness. I am learning quickly that some of us want to get well, many of us don’t even know that recovery is possible, and a few are stuck.

One Nice Thing

My friend suffering from major depression contacted me after a long quiet spell. Actually, I initiated the communication reaching out to him. We’ve been sending text messages for a number of days now. He doesn’t seem to have the energy to speak on the phone.

I’ve known him for about six or seven years now. I’ve talked to him in times of deep crisis and in happy ones, too. When my internship begins, I am going to strongly urge him to join in the WRAP classes.

A Wellness Recovery Action Plan as taught by certified facilitators has the capacity to alter lives. It changed mine. I cannot stress enough my personal transformation. I walked into the job training a frightened individual who believed he was defined by his illness. I leaped through a stage or two of recovery the first week. My eyes opened. I shed my negative self-talk miraculously.

Recovery works. It really works.

My friend can’t see that as yet, and I do not push. I offer understanding. I have been in the dark pit of despair and made it out with the help of a cadre of supporters. I had family, friends, case workers, a therapist, a psychiatrist, and a psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner all working to find what would work for me. I believe it allowed me to reach a place of acceptance, opening me to the possibilities of recovery.

My mantra encourages those suffering depression to do just one nice thing for themselves each day. Just one. A simple one.

Many years ago when I was at my lowest, my one nice thing was brushing my teeth. I was incapable of more. Gradually, I was able to exert a bit more energy and add activities to my list each day, but I began slowly.

It’s important for people with mental illness to practice loving acts of self-care. We, who often feel the opposite, are worthy. I am worth it.

Emotional Sponge

A dear friend called me this morning quite angry about a situation. I was taken aback by her words. She was not angry at me but at a person we both know, and she was fuming.

I first tried to understand her anger, and I’m still unclear about the origins of her outburst today. What was immediately clear to me was my own anxiety. Her words caused my stomach to churn and my mind to fog.

Next, I stated my perception of the events in order to diffuse her temper and offered solutions we could both pursue to work through the matter at hand. It had the desired effect; she calmed down. We agreed on a course of action, and we are starting it today.

Is the problem solved? Yes.

Am I feeling better? No.

My stomach is just beginning to settle two hours after the phone call. My friend’s anger infiltrated me and has not dissipated. Frankly, I’m a mess. I’m not the type to cry or act out in other ways when I’m emotionally upset. I bottle it up inside. It’s unhealthy, but I’m much better at displaying my emotions today than I was ten years ago.

I also have an unhealthy habit of incorporating the emotions of people around me. Others’ little anxieties can become monumental to me. It’s awful really, and I don’t know how to stop.

I recognize where my responsibilities are and what I can control. However, that realization does not negate this emotional turmoil seeping into my pores and mind. I am using calming techniques I learned at the job training I recently completed. I’m breathing slowly and deeply. I’ve distracted my mind by following up on the ideas my angry friend and I decided on. I’m writing here. I am carrying on with my day.

Still, I feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach. This incident will be something to discuss with my therapist.

Bipolar Dating Ideas

Can it be so very hard to date when one has bipolar disorder? If the disease is untreated, then daily life is hard and not just relationships.

Is it so very hard to date a person with bipolar disorder? Again, if untreated, then everything is going to be a struggle.

Relationships are difficult for all of us regardless whether one has a mental illness or not. Conversing, listening, deciphering body language, and understanding are not easy with a veil of worry cast over one’s eyes. “Is she listening?” “Does he care about this topic?” Our internal dialogue bounces with questions and conceptions.

Add bipolar disorder to the mixture, and a cauldron seethes boiling and popping. Let me speak from experience.

I once saw a drama depicting a man meditating. Actors moved slowly behind him reciting lines of his wandering thoughts, distracting him. It raced to the forefront of my mind that I thought in an entirely different way. My thoughts never wandered in and out. They charged. They bombarded me. I could simultaneously hold a thought and understand I was conscious of the thinking, and I knew on five different levels my brain was electrified with inspiration, thinking about thinking about thinking about…sigh. It tires me now to remember.

Yet, I’m very lucky. With my prescribing nurse practitioner, we’ve found a regimen that works. With the job training and WRAP, I’ve found a written system I use to calm my racing thoughts. I found help, and I believe it’s out there for all of us.

Getting help was the first step for me. I’m stable, and with that knowledge, I can reach out to friends and associates, searching for a mate. That search is exciting. The Internet is open with a plethora of sites waiting for us. Some cost. Some are free. Our local areas have many places we can volunteer our time, opening the door to meeting many new people.

What to do then becomes the question. How do we spend time getting to know someone? How much of ourselves do we reveal and when? Those questions plague people with bipolar disorder. I started slowly with my current beau. So far so good, but so far is so far.

We’ve met for coffee. We’ve lunched together. We’ve sat by the water and strolled through the park. We haven’t seen a movie together. We haven’t done many things together. He’s busy and far away. I’ve been busy with job training. Life happens. We’ll see where things go.

I enjoy imagining free or low-cost things for us.

  • Walks along the seashore.
  • Casual days in the park.
  • Picnicking.
  • Driving on country roads.
  • Taking in scenic spots.
  • Visiting free museums.
  • Meeting at the coffee shop.
  • Sightseeing like tourists.
  • Roaming a bookstore.
  • Leisurely meandering through the local library.
  • Reading aloud together.
  • Sitting in the sun.

Really, the list is endless. There are so many joys of life to be gained by exploring the ordinary world around each of us. The artist Andy Warhol once said, “Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again.” Finding beauty in the ordinary is what I strive for. Making a date of the usual turns any day into magic.

Looking for magic in a relationship turns any couple into a happy one.

Let’s make magic happen. Let’s be open to the warm touch of another. Let’s recover. Let’s do it together.

My Hundredth Post

The music is something I like and celebrates the milestone of 100 entries to this blog.

I have been sick. Again. During my week off training. Again. The last week-long break I had, I was sick with a terrible head cold. Either the same thing returned, or I had something different. I’m feeling much better today, and I’m getting excited about going to my final week of training. I’ll be there from Monday to Friday next week.

The third week of training was trying, to say the least. The subject matter was great, but the delivery left something to be desired. Unfortunately, the style of the training changed. Where it had been trainee centered, it became a lecture. For the first two days, in fact, we sat and listened. It was not pleasant. By day three, we were given the chance to do some serious role playing, and that was enormously helpful.

Week four promises to return to the trainee centered nature of a collaborative environment. We’ll be studying more about WRAP and specifically about facilitating groups of individuals designing their own plans. When we finish this week, we will be trained to work with individuals with mental illness on their recovery journeys and with groups in WRAP and Seeking Safety. It’s already proved itself useful in my life, and I am excited about the prospect of reaching out to others and encouraging them to make strides in recovery.

As I look over these few words here, I’m astonished at the change from so much of the previous writing. I have hope today. I mentioned that word in my regular therapy session yesterday, and my psychologist perked up. She mentioned that she thought it was the first time I’d ever used it in her hearing. I couldn’t remember using it there either.

I’m still an alcoholic. I still have bipolar disorder. I still take medicine to control the mental illness. None of that has changed.

But I have changed. I’m brighter inside.

My caseworker noticed it this week, too. He said that I looked better despite the cold. The change shows outside.

I am enormously grateful for where I have been and more for where I am today and most for where I am headed. I survived a fatal disease, alcoholism. I’ve battled the giant of mental illness, and yet I’m going to a place I believe will give me fulfillment I’ve never had.

Once when meditating in my happy place, I asked what I was supposed to learn in this life, and the answer came instantly. “Learn how to help.” Finally, I’m doing just that. I’m learning. It’s helped me. Sooner than I can guess, I’ll be helping others.

Healing Trauma

It’s taken me some days to write again, because I came back from my second week of training with a horrible head and chest cold. Thankfully, it’s passing. After one whole day in bed reading, I’m feeling much better.

I learned some frightening things last week. Of the mental health consumers I will be working with, 91% will have experienced serious trauma. The definition for trauma we were given was “extreme stress brought on by shocking or unexpected events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in feelings of helplessness and extreme fear and horror. The survivor perceives the event as bodily violation  threat of death or serious injury to self or a loved one. The event may be witnessed or experienced directly.”

All kinds of things can be traumatic. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale tries to delineate the spectrum of major life stressors. Death of a spouse is highest on the list for adults. Death of a parent is highest for non-adults. It goes on to many other events, and it even includes Christmas as a major stress point.

The most devastating effect trauma has on a person is the shattering of trust and safety leaving a person feeling powerless. Thus, we spent a good deal of time learning about techniques for aiding recovery. Each participant had to face their own trauma, and indeed one person chose to drop out. It was a very sad experience for all of us.

Each of us was given a book that will be enormously useful. Seeking Safety by Lisa Najavits is a seminal text on conducting groups aimed at providing tools for recovery. There are pages of information, but the bulk of it is a workbook for conducting groups. When I am finished with training and during my internship and afterward, I will be facilitating Seeking Safety groups as well as WRAP groups.

The best possible outcome for me has been a personal transformation. I’ve already written about how my negative self-talk has ceased as a direct result of creating my personal WRAP. I have gained a sense of hope for the future I’ve not felt for many years.

I want to help, and now I believe I can do it.

For the first time ever in my 49 years, fear is not ruling my decisions.

I am born anew.

I am born anew.