Six Steps: Part III

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When I spoke with my friend Jean, who hasn’t let go of me despite my absence from social media, I told her about my reticence in blogging. I’m struggling, and I had the absurd idea that I should be much further recovered before I write anything. Well, I didn’t realize how absurd it was until we spoke. ūüôā She reminded me that you all, like me with you, would want to share in the struggle. We need to know we’re not alone.

Here, then, are the last two of the six steps.

5. Your choices are yours.¬†It might be tempting to tell ourselves that we’re making a change to please someone else. That way, if it doesn’t work out the way we would like it to, we know where to place blame. “You happy now?” we shake our fists in frustration. It’s because it’s so hard, that’s my opinion. Withdrawing from my medications is the number one most difficult thing, next to my father’s death, that I’ve ever been through. Does my decision have wide consequences/rewards? Of course, it does. The difference in who I am off meds with who I was on them is like – well, like the difference between milk chocolate and dark. I’m dark chocolate now. I’m richer with my emotions, like eating the most expensive caviar, but there is a slightly bitter bit at the end. Dark chocolate is an acquired taste. I’m teary a lot, over silly movies and TV shows. And my emotions are all over the place. God bless my mother, as she accepts who I am now in all its nakedness, reassuring me I’m much better to be around without being literally sedated. I suppose in a way I’ve been sleepwalking through the last 28 years. Does my family’s happiness at my condition mean they want to see me struggle? Not at all. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s¬†my¬†life and I made this choice. Whatever happens, good or bad, it’s my responsibility.

6. Practice loving kindness.¬†Times like these, fraught with emotion, need lots of affection and tenderness. Everyone, including ourselves, needs our loving kindness or at least the benefit of the doubt that we are all doing our very best. My mind is sharper now, which I’ve decided is not necessarily a good thing. With no buffer between my mind and the memories of nearly thirty years, I grieve for all that was lost. I grieve the loss of who I might have been. I grieve at costing my family, especially my mother, so much sadness and fright over the years as they had to deal with a shell of a human being. So, yes, I need to practice loving kindness with myself as I try to keep myself mindful and free from the gaping maw of past defeat. I’ll never do it perfectly. All I can do is my very best, and sometimes be happy with half-efforts. That’s all we can do, any of us.

Six Steps to Take Back Our Control: Part Two of Three

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Good morning. ūüôā If you are just tuning in, you can find steps one and two written in the previous blog post.

3. Politely listen but don’t necessarily follow well-meaning advice from family and friends.¬†It’s human nature to want to tell someone or share with that person our ideas about what we think should be done in certain situations. In some cases, this helpful advice comes from family members who have heard us sound entirely different than usual. In my case, it was other siblings who heard me on the phone coming off slurred, drugged, or very sleepy. That’s alarming. I agree. It was disturbing to me as well, even as it happened. Others, including friends who are still on medication and doctors who don’t believe it can be done in your case, offer entirely different words of advice.

4. Visualize all possible outcomes of your choices. I did not do this before I chose to wean myself off my psych meds, but I wish someone had suggested it. I like to play the “What if” game in my head these days. It helps me with most situations. If I’d played this game before I weaned off my psych meds, it might look like this:

  • What if I get anxious?¬†Coming off bipolar and meds for anxiety (specifically Ativan 2mg tablets 3x daily), this is a pretty likely event and concern. So, if I get anxious, I’ll have to cope.
  • What if I can’t cope?¬†What if I *can’t* cope? What do I mean here with this fear? What if I don’t have the *ability* to cope, or I do have the ability, but I’m afraid I won’t want to deal? Suss out those meanings for yourself. I might have to ask for help.
  • What if I ask for help and I’m turned away, or the person I call isn’t home?¬†Then I keep asking. If I have to call the suicide hotline for help, I’ll do that.
  • What if whoever I ask for help that person tells me I need to be admitted to a psych ward?¬†So, is this a terrible thing? It’s *incredibly* difficult to wean off meds by oneself. I’m sure I did it more quickly than I should’ve.

Anyway, you get the idea. Play devil’s advocate on this step.

Peace. xoxo

Chrissy

Six Simple Steps to Take Back Our Control: Part One of Three

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I’ve been having the most difficult time putting my words down here. It can’t be because I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong. It’s my story, my life. How wrong could I get it?

It seems that my most effective/popular blog posts have been when there is a specific list to help change something in one’s life. Hey, who doesn’t like lists, right?

Six Simple Steps to Take Back Control

1. Question everything, and don’t be afraid of your doctor.¬†When we lose or think we lose control of our lives, it’s not always with a crash and broken bones. It’s sometimes pretty subtle. For me, it starts with my doctor says that I need Prozac because I am in a major depression. I’m 27 years old at the time. I can say no, but he’s a¬†doctor.¬†If I didn’t need a pill, surely he wouldn’t suggest it? What I learned years later, something most of you probably know but I will share anyway, is this: doctors have to dx¬†something¬†in your chart in order for the insurance to pay. It’s not as important as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but for some reason it scared me when he said that. So, being a little shell-shocked, I would have agreed to anything short of a lobotomy. Here’s the thing. Our doctors stumble in the darkness too. They aren’t perfect. Don’t be afraid. Honestly, I still get fearful, and have to tell myself over and over before an appointment: “He may have more medical knowledge, but I know myself¬†better.”

2. Trust your instincts.¬†I have been on psychiatric medications for over 30 years, and I’ve written before about trusting our instincts, especially with health concerns. I think I wasn’t absorbing¬†for me¬†what this actually meant. It means knowing how my body feels on drugs, identifying side effects you are absolutely not willing to live with, and letting that be okay. I’ve had two different reactions to my objection to side effects which made me so light-headed and clumsy that I fell twice in six weeks, once spraining my wrist. “You have to weigh the cost of living with the side effects on one hand or living with the symptoms of your illness on the other.” That was my psychiatrist.

I’ve gone on and on. Important things to ponder. I’ll cover steps three and four tomorrow.

Peace. xoxo

Christina

Are You Happy? You’ll Live Longer!

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May is Mental Health Month, so Рwhile I most likely will not post every day Рwhen I post, the date will coincide with the letter of the alphabet from A-Z. Today is May 8th so we will focus on a mental health trait starting with the letter H.

According to this article from the¬†National Institution for Mental Health, ¬†life expectancy in the U.S. has definitively increased. This should not be surprising, if we consider medical treatments, technology, and vaccines available today that weren’t in the early 20th century. The article states that longevity has increased “from 51 years in 1910 to nearly 79 years (81 years in women, 76 years in men) in 2010.”

Since I know my perception changes with my attitude toward any problem situation in my life, I’m often curious about how others deal with illness (in general, not just those with mental health issues). Does anyone know of the “belly laugh” experiment by¬†Dr. Norman Cousins¬†in 1964? It’s an amazing story. After returning from a stressful time in Russia, Dr. Cousins “was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen), which left him in almost constant pain and motivated his doctor to say he would die within a few months.”

Instead of giving up, Dr. Cousins dug deep. He watched humorous shows on TV and read funny books, comics, and so forth. He claimed that a mere 10 minutes of belly laughs would allow him two hours of sleep without pain when even morphine¬†couldn’t help. Defying all odds, he was able to return to work full-time within two years! In 1979 Cousins wrote a book,¬†Anatomy of An Illness, in which he shared the astonishing results of his experiment.

Though I can’t say that we all should try the doctor’s method, it certainly ought to give us pause. Although striving for more happiness to boost our mental health does not guarantee a longer life, it is said that people who are mentally ill tend to die at least 10 years earlier than their more healthy peers.

How happy are you? ūüôā

Peace,

Chris

Self-conscious much? Do something!

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Probably each of us has, at one time or another, felt self-conscious about ourselves. I’m sure even actors (John Cusack), and people in high-powered positions have those times when they’d really rather not be there. It’s too hard sometimes to be with other people you’re¬†sure¬†are better than you; a better person, better wife/husband, daughter/son, mother/daughter, people in¬†general.¬†

I’ll tell you something about myself, but you have to promise to keep it secret. “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” There are many things I do ritualistically and some things I can’t do at all.¬†IF¬†I go to Starbucks, I first look online to see what the slowest time will be, go then, even if it’s¬†not uil 7:00 at night. I’m sure to take the garbage out when it is still dark, and that’s when I pick up yesterday’s mail as well (I don’t like to be seen walking down the driveway during the day — too many eyes on me). It’s not a narcissistic thing. It’s paranoia and huge, insurmountable fear. I walked my¬†dog Pookie once, it was the most natural and most pleasurable walk I’d ever had (not because I forgot about myself for a change) but because I had the perfect harness and leash so that my dog walked right next to me.

Still, I looked down at the ground a lot. When I looked up, I was careful not to focus on anything too much, because someone might notice. I counted steps, and when I wasn’t counting, I was saying to myself, “left, right, left, right.” Anything to get through it and be sure the dog got some exercise. Sometimes (seriously) I’d rather have a root canal than put myself through all this bullshit.

How can anyone get through something like this? The only words that have ever helped me are from my 90-year-old mother.

She said two things that have¬†just begun¬†to take hold. The first wise, experienced words she said were, “Chris if you knew how much people didn’t think about you at all, you’d be surprised.” And she’s¬†right,¬†you know? When on the porch smoking, I might glance up and see someone walking, either alone or with a dog, I might say “Good morning, nice day,” or whatever, then go straight back to book. It doesn’t register on my radar. It’s something I see people do every day.

The other thing is this: “All you can do is try. If you fail, try again, and keep trying. That’s all you can do, the best you have in you.”

Love you, Mom,

Chris

 

NEW! BOOK POST! Dear Kindle,

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“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”–from a sonnet by Elizabeth Barett Browning

Oh my goodness, Kindle. My affair with you has been on again/off again. I was highbrow and holier-than-thou.

“Kindles? Oh, I rarely read them. I like the feel of the pages as I turn them. I love the smell of new and old books…I love the smell period.”

I was that person. Also, I was the kind of person who would “go along to get along,” so when someone would say “Oh dear. I would¬†never¬†dog-ear a book. And cracking¬†the binding of a paperback? You’ve¬†got¬†to be kidding? Who¬†does¬†that?” I’d be right along, sniffing my upturned nose.

Well, I’m not a book snob anymore. Yes, when I was young until after college (and sometimes if I can’t find a scrap of paper to bookmark the page), I dog-eared. And yes, thirty flogs with a wet noodle, I still crack the spines of paperbacks. It’s an OCD thing. I break the binding at specific intervals: p. 50, p. 100…It feels like – symmetrical, something I am compelled to do. I also write in my books and underline passages.¬†Bad, bad me.¬†

Currently, dear Kindle, you hold 2,929 books for me! That’s astonishing. I can read you in the dark, on the porch, long ashes growing forgotten from my cigarette, oblivious of everything except the stray lightning bug that lands in my hair. Even then, unless it stays there, I’m immersed. My actual hard copy books can’t compete. I easily slip you into my purse, so that – if a social gathering gets too intense – I can pop outside and read a few pages, taking myself far, far away.

Sweet, unassuming Kindle, I might surely die before I read all the books you hold for me. If that happens, I’ll request they bury you with me and I’ll finish in Heaven.

Love,

Chris

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Let’s be honest. We all want/need to be loved. Newborn babies who are not held or touched, actually die. We all want someone to say “I love you and I always will. You are important. I’ll try my hardest to never let you down. I’m here.”

I’ve learned in the last four months that animals have many of the same emotions as human beings. That shouldn’t really surprise us. I mean, my previous dog suffered from pancreatitis,¬† so we know they share at least one biological, internal organ as do we. But it is fascinating to read something like this:¬†Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities between dogs and humans

A little over four months ago, I adopted a dog who had been through the hurricane in Flordia. So he most likely suffered PTSD, as humans do when we suffer something horrific. He lost his family and was moved from place to place to place until he came to live with me. I think intellectually I knew it would be difficult, but was terribly unprepared emotionally for all the emotions and behaviors he expressed that worried me. To be honest, three weeks ago I seriously thought about placing him with another owner, because I wanted a better life for him, and I didn’t think he could have that with me. I’m still in contemplation. Don’t judge me.

I’ve learned some things during this time with my little man (an affectionate nickname), some things that pertain to both anxious humans and dogs both:

1,¬†Be patient.¬†This is maybe the most basic and most difficult practice, patience. Things happen in their own time, and if we try to rush them we most likely will end up mucking it all up, left with feelings of frustration and irritation. PTSD is essentially a form of anxiety. There are all kinds of theories about a dog’s memory. Some people would say my dog has gotten over his anxiety, fear, skittishness, isolation, or whatever else. Others would say it takes a while to move from that feeling. Forgetting isn’t always easy for dogs. They remember when they’ve been abused. And how do we explain the reaction and memory of a dog who would completely knock down his owner and lavish her with kisses after she’s done a year-long tour of duty? Which bring me to number two.

2.¬†It’s not about you.¬†It’s rough not to take things personally when dealing with animals. Don’t we all have that picture in our minds of the lab laying his paw on his owner’s head, the man on his porch, complete with the breathless sunset? Ha ha. Yeah. It’s a beautiful image, but it’s not always that way, and even if it is, it takes¬†work and patience.¬†But maybe, like me, you’ve taken into your home an animal that mostly distrusts you (you think), but then jumps on you when you come home. It’s puzzling¬† and sometimes heartbreaking.

3.¬†It is what it is.¬†This is a rough translation for “radical acceptance,” which means accepting what is in front of us completely, absolutely, without taking away or adding to. It means we¬†stop¬†fighting what’s real, and in doing so, we hurt less. We don’t hold on so tightly. We try to remind ourselves that nothing stays the same: good times don’t last, or bad, or complicated, or simple. They just are. Like a drowning person, we won’t survive our rescue until we accept the fact we’re drowning and someone has come to save us.

5.¬†Be calm.¬†I’ve heard it said, when “growing” a dog, that they often take on the personality of their owner. So if we are calm and happy, our dogs/cats might also become calm and happy – again, depending on the circumstance.¬† So if we are Woody Allen stereotype anxious or worried, our animals might be the same. My mother always says to me if I didn’t have something to worry about, I’d make one (I’m worried that I’m not worried? lol). A happy medium is probably best.

7.¬†Give yourself a break.¬†I’m quick to judge myself’ and I assume I’m not the only one to do so. I’ve made many mistakes working with my little man Pookie. I’ve not always been consistent, which I understand is crucial for training. Sometimes I say, “Pookie, come,” in the happiest, cheerful tone I can manage. When Pookie sits there at the top of the steps musing his options, I say (probably a little louder) “Come on, Pookie!” accompanied by an inviting pat to my knee. Finally, I give in to “Pookie Stachura, come here right now. I mean it.” In which case he eventually comes. Or, when none of that works (he can be as stubborn aattention¬†s me!), I’ll try waving my hands down the stairs, calling “Hurry hurry hurry!” Yet, he’s gotten away from me four times – three by just pulling hard, and one when he slipped out of his collar. Each time, my frantic “Pookie, come!”brings him back, where he sits, calmly, usually behind me.*sigh* My point is, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Puppies have the span of a gnat. Three-to-five minutes five times a day is the most to hope for, and that might even be too much. Ending on a good note, where he actually gets the command, is jackpot. Go easy. Keep it simple. And remind yourself that two steps forward, one step back is still one step forward. ūüôā

This has been my first post in quite a while. I try my very best to supply information in a fun, sometimes funny manner.

Have a great day.

Chris

To Video Log or Not: That is the question.

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Okay, besides working on my short story, crocheting, and struggling with a surprise gift for my mom’s 90th birthday, I’m hoping to start a Video Blog on November 1st. Of this year. Yep, that will be the same month as NaNoWriMo, but – hey! It – hopefully – won’t take me all day every day to write 50k by November 30th. So, after talking with my therapist, I decided to make a pro and con list about it.

See, my therapist thinks that because I¬†had¬† and sometimes still have terrible self-consciousness while walking Pookie, it might not be the best thing for me; vlogging, that is. I walk Pookie daily (unless it rains too freaking long like it did yesterday) and it’s better. If I focus on what I’m doing, walking Pookie, I don’t really have time to wonder what everyone else is thinking.

So, here’s the list:

Pros:

  • I could possibly help raise awareness about mental illness and all that it entails
  • It’s been said, and (even though I love to write) it’s sometimes right; a¬†picture speaks a thousand words.
  • It would challenge my vulnerability
  • If just¬†one¬†person is made to feel not so alone, it will beat all the negative replies I might get
  • Being my authentic self, not worrying whether my hair is a mess, or not worrying about the scars on my face and hands, will be a massive breath of fresh air
  • Nothing is more real than the truth staring you (the watcher – lol) in the face

Cons:

  • I might not raise any awareness at all. People might be saturated with mental illness and just “change the channel.”
  • Maybe a picture does speak a thousand words, but my writing is kinda decent, right?
  • I would be completely vulnerable, like those nightmares when you wake up, walk in late for an exam, and just then realize you’re entirely naked.
  • Everyone I know and even people I hardly know at all will see me.
  • What if I totally fudge it?
  • I’m too¬†ugly.¬†What if I make people gag just looking at my face?
So, that’s it. I still have some time to think about it until November. Thoughts?

B is for Blaming

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My sister’s three children, who are grown adults now — the eldest is forty, and the younger two are in their late thirties — like to blame her for the way their lives are now, drawing on countless stories of a “horrific” childhood raised by a sometimes absent practicing alcoholic. This is always heartbreaking for Carol but she has learned to say “Goodbye, I’m hanging up now,” when it gets redundant and too difficult.  I’m sure their childhoods were indeed difficult, but at what point does one say, “What’s happening in my life now is up to me. These are my choices. No one else is responsible and no one can change those choices except me.” 

It’s easier to blame, though. It hurts less, and pointing that sharp finger at ourselves takes blind courage. I know, because for years I went to Al-Anon meetings missing the point. I talked about the alcoholics in my life: my dad and my sister, and how they had wronged me; how screwed up my life was now because of them. Sound familiar? ūüėČ I reasoned that since Carol had started drinking when she was 16 and I was an impressionable three, my childhood was essentially taken away from me. I vacillated between the placater/pleaser and the lost child/adjuster in Claudia Black’s family roles  For those of you from alcoholic families, which role(s) did you play?

Naturally, I felt tons of victimization in these roles, and I played it to the hilt. Poor me, poor me, I cried at the meetings, and — I love them so much — no one at  those meetings ever  once stopped me, trusting the process.

It has taken years, and I mean years, for me to get to the place where I can sit down at an Al-Anon meeting and know I’m going to talk about some facet of my life that I need help with. Because that’s what it’s all about. Al-Anon is for me. AA is for the alcoholic.

Not that I still don’t play  the blame game every now and then. Who doesn’t? It’s  like something that almost rolls off my tongue and I have to consciously stop myself. Oh wait —noooo, what happened  was my own choice! ūüôā

How I Survived A Life-Threatening Illness

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I lie awake at night, wondering what fresh hell tomorrow will bring me.

“Change is inevitable We can depend on that. By letting go of our efforts to influence the future, we become freer to experience the present, to feel all of our feelings while they are happening, and to more fully enjoy those precious moments of joy.” –Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

So, you might think, as you read this, that bringing humor to the situation is insanity. But you know me and my sarcastic wit. Would you recognize me any other way? ūüėČ Besides, the alternative is too stupid to consider, and useless. Plus really, who doesn’t love a little Tina Fey?

But seriously, I have had such a hard time writing this (it’s been on my mind for a while), because I honestly don’t want to come off sounding pitiful, or elicit sorrowful responses, most of all. What has happened to me could happen to anyone–could happen to you. So please–don’t feel sorry for me. I’m here, I’m alive, and that’s a¬†good¬†thing.

It has not been the greatest year so far. Lol. First, I had to go back into a psychiatric partial day treatment program to get my bipolar meds adjusted. But what I learned shortly after I was admitted was that this therapist had noticed my hypomanic episode building since before Christmas. Why she didn’t say something earlier is still a mystery to me, but hey–at least she copped to it when my mom finally told me my agitation and irritability were getting hard to deal with. All of this explains why I ¬†had such a hard time decorating for the holidays last year. Seriously, I was like a slug, and even when I’m depressed it’s like my favorite time of year. I barely put up lights on the ceiling and yanked out the tree (with lights already on), no ornaments—voila. There. Be happy. Ha ha.

Psych partial started on January 25th. My psychiatrist there (it’s like you no longer have the shrink you had on the “outside;”¬†this¬†shrink, the one in the hospital, calls the shots) tried several different meds, at different levels, and suddenly—instead of hypomania, I started feeling incredibly depressed. Yeah, I know–I should have my own channel on Youtube, because my life is just¬†that¬†fascinating.

Then, I went home early from the program on February 13th, because my back and left leg were just killing me. All I missed was relaxation therapy, but you’d think it was chemical engineering, for all the tap dancing I had to do to get out of it. So I went home.

That night, I woke up in the wee hours freezing cold with my teeth chattering. Yikes. I can’t remember the last time my teeth chattered. So I got up, took my temp, and it was elevated; something like 101. (I’m not totally sure at this point; my baseline temp is 97. I just know I had a fever) I also noticed like a big cyst or something high up on my inner left thigh. I wasn’t too worried at this point. I took a couple aspirin, ran some hot water on a washcloth to lay on the cyst and went back to sleep under like 5 blankets.

The next I knew it was morning and I was in a sweat. Good. So my temp was down and the cyst had also diminished. But then, my fever spiked back up again at around eight. I told my mom I thought I needed to go to the ER, and she agreed.

Long story short, what started out as a simple cyst turned out to be necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. Yep. My WBC, which is supposed to be 10 or under, was 21, so I was admitted—instead of let go from the ER—on Valentine’s Day. I had three surgeries in four days in that most private of areas–whether you are a woman or a man–and spent eight days inpatient. Granted, I was on morphine, and much of the pain is now a blur, but still. My fever was up and down, up and down. They had me on I.V. antibiotics, three at a time (once I read a label, and it said 2,000 units!!)–like throwing paint on the wall–trying to see what would work. Finally the WBC came down enough that they could let me go with Amoxicillin for one week.

I had to have the surgical sites packed (with gauze) by home care nurses for¬†at least¬†two months, my surgeon said. So yes, I’m positive 2,000 people have seen my va-jay-jay at this point. I kept forgetting to charge an admission fee. I always meant to, though. At least I still had some self-respect. Just kidding. The nurses were so kind and gentle with my body and my heart. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to care for me.

Now here’s the best part. I saw my surgeon yesterday for our weekly checkup of the surgical wound sites, right? She was SO pleased with how well everything is healing. Everything has closed (from the inside out, to prevent future infection) at least halfway, in some cases more. In fact, I’m doing so well that she said I can say goodbye to the daily nurse care and she doesn’t want to see me again for a month. After that, who knows?¬†That’s exactly¬†five weeks¬†from the day I was admitted, right?

What an incredible journey!! I wonder what the rest of the year has in store? Bring it on.

What Could Be Scarier Than a Great White Shark??

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epiphanybatman Happy ninth day of Twelvetide. I wish you health and prosperity this day, and a modicum of sanity as we go and be with various family and friends that we may have a genuine love it or leave it sort of ambivalence toward. Living with ambivalence is not for sissies.

Let’s assume for a bit that you¬†don’t¬†live in or anywhere near¬†Flint, Michigan, and as far as you¬†know¬†it’s safer than it’s ever been (since that great white shark in the 70s) to dip your toe back in the water. I give you three simple words.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

If your heart beats a little quicker than usual at seeing those three words, or you feel your shirt getting damp and wonder to yourself, “Did it just get hot in here?” … I am here to tell you that you are never alone. Don’t get up and check your thermostat. Don’t worry you might have a heart attack if you even allow the thought of those three words to linger in your mind.

You are absolutely fine. After all, they’re just words, right? Still, if you’re like me, the past 365 days of your life flashed through your mind’s eye on New Year’s Eve. Also, if you are¬†hopefully¬†like me, you’ll find some peaks and valleys in the past year along with maybe one¬†terrific thing¬†you did for yourself or someone else (or both). There will be those times we wish we could take back something we might have done or said. But no, Virginia, there are no takesie-backsies, regardless of how much you wish there were. And it’s useless to go back and wish we stuck with our diets, exercised more, quit smoking, read better literature, or whatever else happens to pass through your mind. That time’s gone; say bye-bye and face today with unflinchingly optimistic hearts. I have a few guidelines, as we go through this next year:

Be yourself:¬†I don’t think I can stress this one enough. Always, always be your best self in any situation you find yourself. For me, if I have a bad time at a party or gathering, the largest reason I can trace it back to is that in some way I wasn’t being genuine to myself. When we work too achingly hard at pretending to be other than who we really are, when we strive to always be prettier, smarter, more interesting…than everyone else at the party, it falls flat. After all, we wouldn’t be invited in the first place if we weren’t so beloved by being exactly who we were meant to be. So, whatever happens, take a breath, square your shoulders, and open the door. You are wanted.

Be kind:¬†I didn’t think this up, but it’s a great question to keep asking ourselves this year. That is, “What is the kindest thing I can do/say?”

Be forgiving:¬†Forgive quickly and often, beginning with ourselves. Try not to be too quick to judge, because–well, we know what that feels like. Try, though surely we won’t¬†often¬†always be successful, to give the benefit of the doubt, to those you cherish, as well as yourself.

Be goal-oriented:¬†This is essentially quite different from resolutions. Goals are infinitely good to have, for without them, we despair and languish. If your only goal is to make it through the day unscathed, and when you collapse into bed that night, having counted all fingers and toes and found none missing, then that’s a good day’s work.

Most of all, don’t live back there. You can’t get there from¬†anywhere¬†in the rational world that isn’t met with opaque glasses, never seen quite clearly. And for all the goodness in the world, don’t spend too much time in the future. You might start finding yourself too old for this or that, that it’s inevitably too late. I’m of the opinion it’s never too late. Not for marriage, not for love, for education, etc. It’s not even too late to have children, regardless of age–one can always adopt, or be a stupendous aunt or uncle.

I sincerely hope you have had nothing but happiness this past Christmas, and that Santa Claus was good to you. You deserve it. Moving forward, let’s join hands and step into 2017, with our eyes on trying hard to be better in every way. Here’s to you, plus a cartoon to make you laugh:¬†bear-snowman

 

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

5

bigmacI almost closed/deleted/whatever my blog yesterday, which I’ve kept since (I think) May of 2007. Anyway, it’s a pretty long time. It’s just getting to be like FaceBook to me, which is why I mostly stay away from FB these days. FB is all about the houses to me. The big ones, the prettiest ones, the ones with adorable kids on swing sets in the backyards, handsome couples walking hand-in-hand down the neighborhood for all to see. Most of the rest of us stand there and admire, whistle, and applaud. Oh, and we can’t forget the likes. The more likes you get, it means more¬†people¬†like hearing about your pretty house, husband, wife, kids, pets . . . and not simply friends but total¬†strangers.¬†Someone you have never ever met in your entire life likes your dog, Fido. :/ What, and now there are¬†love¬†buttons, in case one can’t like the person enough. Am I the only living soul who finds this a little surreal? No, you needn’t argue with me about the difference between liking the poster and liking what the poster posts.

Anyway, blogging is getting to be like that, like FB. It’s been that way for a while for me. I just don’t “like” myself waiting and worrying over . . . likes. If you know me at all, I don’t need to explain that sentence to you, and if you¬†don’t¬†know me, there’s not enough time to educate you. ¬†I suppose I could keep writing, for myself (it’s the only time I write anymore), while disabling the likes and comments. That way I might wonder who would’ve liked it, but I don’t have to torture myself over why no one liked it.

Nobody realizes the power they wield. I¬†know¬†I don’t have any power. I’m¬†nobody.¬†But not you, nope, not to me. Okay, there’s a lot more rolling around in this old head, you know, but I’m going to stop now. See you.¬†okay

A-Z Blog Challenge Reflections

2

reflectionIn retrospect, this month-long challenge was good for me. I can still say that, even after the whining, complaining, staying up at night thinking about topics, taking forever to write, obsessing, worrying, and stressing so much that I made myself ill. I loved every haphazard minute of it. You bet I did.

But it all starts out the same way. It’s like “Oh, a¬†challenge! Shiny, Shiny!”¬†And then after a few days it dawns on me that this is a¬†daily ritual¬†and I made a¬†commitment¬†and all those other big scary words most adults should never have to hear in their lifetimes. See, I’m not good at commitment. I like to make a big splash¬†in the pool, then grab my towel and walk away. ¬†I’m a good starter, so I need other people around me who like to finish. You know?

But I found that there were a few deeply disturbed individuals¬†following my blog posts whom I simply did not want to let down. ūüėČ The more they stayed with me, the more it made me want to complete the challenge. I learned that I indeed had the stamina within me to complete things. I had completed NaNoWriMo twice before. But it seemed much harder to show up for a blog post every day of the week except Sundays. It says to your readers:¬†You matter to me. I care about you, and I’m here.¬†

And of course I learned even more about anxiety, which never hurts. ūüėÄ

This is a bonus post for the month. My schedule, as you know, is normally M, W, F, and Sun. But the Powers That Be, this was important to them. And helpful for us as well, I think.

Have a fantastic day!

Ciao, Bella.

Neutralizers

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N (1)Welcome to the letter “N.” It might be easy to smile or, even, laugh at the picture I’ve included with today’s post of Will Smith from MIB holding a neutralizer. But–picture this. There you are, stuck in a panic-anxiety cycle, with no clear end in sight. Along comes handsome, sexy, Will. He flashes his neutralizer at you and suddenly you’re perfectly fine. In fact, you can’t even remember what it was you were so anxious about! Because that’s what the neutralizer does, right? It zaps your memory. I think that would be incredibly clever.

In a way, outside of the fantasy/movie world, neutralizers aren’t really very different at all. Three examples of anxiety neutralizers are:

1.¬†Understanding.¬†This includes both understanding oneself and being understood by others. How is this a neutralizer? The more we understand ourselves, the more we get to know our personalities, our core values, our bodies, our dreams, our likes and dislikes—the more compassion we will have for ourselves, and the more absolute ability we will have to come against fear. Or so I’m told. ūüėČ And, I don’t think I need to explain how much it matters when others understand us. We all know what it means when they¬†don’t,¬†right? So just imagine the opposite of that.

2.¬†Fun.¬†The extreme importance of fun is not lost on me. I surely don’t have enough of it. Lord, my mother is always telling me I’d be prettier if I’d only smile more often. I think we’re all so serious because–well anxiety is a serious business, and we spend half our lives looking over our shoulders to see where the next shock is going to come from. But you know what? Let’s not. Let’s not do that. Let’s pretend we all live in a Disney movie. One of the old ones from when Walt was still alive; an animated one, like Cinderella. You know, she comes from a bad situation but she gets out of it and she marries a prince. Right? Not too shabby! I wouldn’t mind that. Try to have some fun. Don’t be afraid to look a little stupid. Hell, I look stupid all the time. ūüėõ

3.¬†Mindfulness.¬†One of the biggest problems with anxious worriers is they spend half their time obsessing about something that happened yesterday, which they can’t change, or panicking about tomorrow, which hasn’t come yet. Mindfulness teaches us to focus on right here, right now, this moment. There is no other.

This was a little longer than I wanted it to be, but I tried to say it as succinctly as possible. I hope you found it helpful. Again, sorry for the tardiness. We were out of internet all day and, while I could have gone to Panera or something, I needed to stay for the Brighthouse guy because my mom wasn’t sure what to tell them.

Ciao, Bella. You all brighten my days so much. ūüôā

P.S. I got the mail during the day twice this week and if I do it again tomorrow that’ll make¬†three¬†times!
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Keenness And Learned

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K (1)Today’s post is brought to you by the letters “K” and “L.” Please forgive yesterday’s lapse; it was not a good day for me. As described in¬†Definitions.com,¬†keenness’ 3rd definition is: “characterized by strength and distinctness of perception; extremely¬†sensitive or responsive.” I think again, we see the double-edged sword, where perception and sensitivity can be either a strength or a hindrance when taken to the extreme.¬†

I think if we dig hard enough, we can see that that’s true. It’s very true for me, I know that much. My sensitivity allows me to know when someone is feeling upset or out of sorts, or maybe carrying a secret–bursting at the seams with it, and yet this same sensitivity can be ¬†downright agony when I allow it to go to the extreme. I get my feelings hurt so easily, my heart is broken time and time again, and I’m devastated when I’ve taken things too personally (thought people were talking about me), because, you know, it’s¬†always¬†about me. Not.

There are ways to overcome our sensitivity. I gathered up my research and decided on the best things that would help. Here they are:

1. Admit you have a problem. Until you admit you’re overly sensitive, you can’t change.
2. Explore your sensitivity. Ask yourself questions, like are you sensitive to a particular person or a group of people?
3. Look for a particular trigger for your sensitivity, like an image, color, scent, sound, or sensation.
4. Take your time. Be sure to go over the exploration and trigger steps as many times as you need to until you have a complete understanding of your sensitivity.
5. Be brave and start to unpack the sensitivity. Study it compassionately. Admit that you don’t find that this particular sensitivity helps you, each time it comes up.
6. Build strength. Finally, you will just “know” sensitivity for what it is whenever it comes up. You’ll be reminded that you have no interest in being that way and you can let it go quickly without becoming upset.

L (1)It seems just a few days ago we were talking about how anxiety was hardwired. Now we’re going to a whole different perspective, which says that being anxious is a learned behavior. In fact, this article is so interesting that I’m just going to include the link so you can read it for yourself:¬† Unhealthy behaviors cause anxiety disorder, not genes. ¬†The basic idea is that anxiety is learned, and that, if so, it can be unlearned through various techniques. I’d be interested in your thoughts after reading the article.

Well, I know the “L” post is especially short, but I don’t want to go on any further. I believe I’ve given you enough to think about, especially if you read that article.

Have a great day/evening!

Ciao, bella.
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Nothing is permanent in this wicked world‚ÄĒnot even our troubles. –Charlie Chaplin

Exposure Is Like A Four-Letter Word

4

exposureOr at least, it should be, and that’s the word¬†fear.¬†In the book I’m reading about social anxiety disorder, Dying of Embarrassment, there is lots of talk about¬†exposure¬†as the main solution to dealing with most anxious and troubling situations.

The first part of the book helps one figure out what exactly is distressing and anxiety provoking. It’s all very individual, of course. Then we’re supposed to put it in a hierarchy, like from least anxiety-provoking, to moderately anxiety-provoking to severely anxiety-provoking. I’m just reading this book to read it for now. When I sit down to really look at situations and make a list it’s going to take me a while, because my knee-jerk reaction is always “It’s¬†all¬†severely anxiety-provoking! What do you think got me¬†into¬†this mess?!”

Exposure therapy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_therapy) as a form of torture began in the 1950s. It’s also known as¬†flooding.¬†Of course, I’m kidding about the torture part (a little). I only say that because I’m actually considering it and I’m afraid. The next section of the book (I forgot the part about the coping skills and changing cognitive distortions) is actually doing it. Exposures take two forms:¬†in vivo¬†(real life) and¬†imaginal¬†(in the imagination). Before we do an actual in vivo exposure, we’re supposed to take ourselves through a few imaginal exposures.

In imaginal exposures, everything is imagined as detailed as possible. All the smells, the sounds, are people sweating, etc., get as detailed as possible. Then go through the situation and let your anxiety rise as you sit through it. Go through the anxiety and stay with it because it will go down again the longer you stay with it, as you remember your breathing exercises and so on.  You might imagine absolute success or you might imagine marginal failure and how you would come at your cognitive distortions in the imaginal exposure.

In¬†in vivo¬†exposures everything is real. The book never mentions this, but to me it is like taking someone who is afraid of snakes and throwing them into a pit of vipers! Of course, it’s not that dramatic, because there’s the hierarchy list; the list of lesser anxiety-provokers and higher anxiety-provokers. So it’s much more within the control of the person with social anxiety disorder. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of public speaking. You might start with saying hello to your neighbor when you’re both working in your backyards. Then a medium task might be giving a talk at the high school. A severe task would be giving the baccalaureate speech for your daughter’s friend’s graduation.

If you read this far, God bless you, Geshundheit, please place your trays in their upright positions, and thank you for not smoking.

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Apprehension

2

apprehensive-1Writing this blog used to be easy and fun for me. Now, each time I sit down to write, I’m filled with apprehension and dread. Questions swirl through my mind, because it’s not just me or my satisfaction I think about anymore. “Will this make people happy? Will it offend anyone, even unintentionally? What’s relevant¬†for the reader?¬†What should I write about? Will it keep their interest? Will it make them shut down immediately? Or will it touch a cord so deep they wish they’d never read it in the first place?”

All this is going through my mind, especially as April draws near. April, as many of you know, is the “Blogging From A-Z” challenge. The participant (me) is expected to write a post¬†SIX days a week, getting Sundays off, making it 26 posts for the month. That’s going to be a real stretch for me, but I’m committed to it.

In order to do it, I think, I have to pretend I don’t have a readership. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the only thing that will work for me. I have to pretend I’m writing only for myself. . . and maybe for Lucy. She’s pretty nonjudgmental. ūüėČ

If you’ve read this far, God bless you, Gesundheit, please put your¬†trays in their upright positions, and thank you for not smoking. ūüôā

The Anxiety-Exhaustion Tango

lie downSometimes, I’m surprisingly tired in the evenings before I go to sleep and I have to stop and figure out why. With generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (just being the anxiety issues), it’s a lot to sort through.

Usually, if it’s not a physical reason, if it’s not because I’ve helped someone move their apartment that day or something else equally taxing, I know it has to do with anxiety and emotions.¬†So then I sift through my day.

When I was in high school my sister moved back home with her three young children for a time and we used to play a game around the dinner table. Everyone would say what they did that day, and the children took it very literally ūüôā “I woke up, I brushed my teeth, I got dressed, I had breakfast….” Like so. That’s the way I tried to relive my day to see what the culprit might be.

Usually, of course, it was people. I am still not very good with people. So it might have been a lunch with an old school mate, or a visit with a brother who came over, maybe a family gathering.

People don’t often understand how something like anxiety, something so high-keyed, can be linked to exhaustion. But–just think about what happens to all that balled up energy when it finally lets go. Sort of like a balloon deflating, you know? All around the room it goes, bouncing against the walls, until it comes to a very final end.

If you’ve read this far, God bless you, Gesundheit, please return your trays to their upright position, and thank you for not smoking.

Changes

6

David Bowie in 1969 and 1995. I got an interesting email from WordPress in which told me they “missed me.” You and I both know that’s propaganda-esque crap, but the stats show people still visit my site even when I don’t write, which hasn’t been for months.

The problem is, I’ve changed a lot in that time. I don’t want to write about the same things. I’m not the same person anymore. I don’t go to Al-Anon, I¬†hardly¬†whine about my sister and nephew anymore, and it’s just not on my radar. They live in Ann Arbor, and I don’t see them often enough that they are a problem for me. My boundaries are intact.

What I¬†do¬†struggle with, what is the “new me” if you will, is social phobia and panic and anxiety. I’m also trying to read through the list of books in¬†1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Given that I’m already 52, I realize I have to read faster. LOL

Crocheting is still a big thing for me, but I don’t want a separate blog about it. I want to talk about it here when I’ve accomplished something especially difficult, of which I’m proud.

Also, my mother is 87 now. Sometimes we get along super, just fantastic, and other times we are at each other’s throats. I can’t explain it. I might need to blog about that here.

If this new blog approach sounds like something you might be interested in, keep on coming! If not, see you on the flip side, and thank you for reading as long as you have. You are all dears.

Have a sunny-side up day.

Is It Giving Up Or Letting Go?

5

 

1.¬†decide it’s okay to let go:¬†When I walked away from Maybury Farms, when I let that go, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. You have to know that whatever you are holding onto does not belong to you, living or inanimate. It is¬†not yours.¬†That makes it easier to let go.

2. don’t hold on so hard: ¬†I was holding on so hard to the farm that I couldn’t enjoy myself. I mostly had panic attacks, anxiety so bad that I had to take pills before each tour. I couldn’t even enjoy the children. How do you enjoy tours with 50 children each? I was overwhelmed, too low self-esteem and way little voice projection. If we hold on too hard, all we come away with are empty fists and tense shoulders.

3.¬†decide what you truly want:¬†I know I still want to give back to the community somehow, I just learned that this is not the way. Sometimes we fall many times before we find our way. I know I want animals; farm animals may not be them. I may walk dogs for exercise for a veterinarian or something. When we know what we want, it’s easier to let go of what we don’t want.

4.¬†don’t ask too many people for advice:¬†I only called one person when I was about to leave the farm, and that was my counselor. I called him twice and he didn’t get back to me in time. So I made the decision on my own. The problem with asking multiple people what they think is we often get multiple answers and it muddies up the water. Yuck. No one wants that. ūüôā

5.¬†don’t listen to what others say after you let go:¬†You’ll get all kinds of opinions after you make your decision to let go, but really—what do you care? All that matters is how you feel. Do you feel happy, relaxed, free? Then ignore them all.

6.¬†celebrate your freedom: ¬†You just¬†have¬†to do something to celebrate your new found freedom, even if it’s something as simple as going to the DQ. You. Are. Free. It’s not usually simple, and it’s not usually easy, so make a huge freakin’ deal out of this. ‚̧

Ciao, Bella. xx