Posts tagged ‘self-help’

Recovery Part 2: Pain, Pain Another Day; Misery Go Away – photo illustrated

God Cried for Me And Promised Relief

It WILL get better...

Sometimes I feel like I can’t stop crying and other times I feel like I feel so much that I just stop feeling altogether. I discovered a forum last night for chronic back pain. I’ve struggled with it for years, the cause never diagnosed. Although, I have to say, it’s taken a back seat to some of my other conditions, like Bipolar Depression, for one. I’m hurting emotionally a lot worse than physically right now. Last night, I was crying for both reasons.

A couple weekends ago, I wasn’t trusting myself to remain safe, realizing that the irrational obsessive thoughts of death running through my mind were increasing and were disproportionate to my current circumstances (well, suicidal thoughts are always disproportionate, but…you know.) I checked myself into an inpatient psych unit, but left before I really felt ready because the crappy beds intensified my back pain SO, SO MUCH. I didn’t expect to go there and suddenly feel better, but I couldn’t handle feeling worse. There and since, I haven’t been able to sleep more than a few hours a night despite a combo of two medications for pain and one for sleep.

Anyway, I discovered in the forum a man who I think experiences much more physical pain on a daily basis than I ever have. I read through a lot of what he’d written. He acknowledged his emotional struggle with horrible thoughts (like my own, I imagine) but the mention was minor in the midst of his recounting of the wildlife around him. I found myself uplifted by his vivid descriptions. I felt transported. His experiences came to life in my mind.

But I was even more encouraged by the spirit of this man who noticed and cared for the forest and it’s creatures around him. He reflects on a cute albino raccoon baby. In the midst of a winter storm, he describes putting out hay for the deer, seeing the fear in their eyes. He tells of spending four hours one night making rounds to feed the animals. He reminded me that the only way to push through pain is one moment at a time, being in the moment and looking for the beauty. He reminded me that being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Lying in bed, I only see a brick wall out my window. But I’ve seen the beauty of nature in the past and my mind can still be my retreat.

My grandpa and grandma lived out in the boonies next to the Rock River. I’d forgotten, when I’m hurting, I can escape to “The Camp” in my mind. I imagine the man who wrote in the forum about his life in the forest finds the same solace in the nature around him. I remember, too, how connected to everything I felt and how loved I felt there. Sadly, my grandfather shot himself, when I was thirteen, because of pain that doctors hypothesize was from a brain tumor (too much of his brain was gone for them to know). That still is the most profound thing, positive or negative, that has ever happened to me up to this point in my life.

For many years, what I perceived as him “giving up” was an excuse for me to do the same. I never told anyone how much I hurt inside until I was nineteen, ten years after the thought of ending my life first occurred to me. However, I came to realize the experience of my grandfather’s suicide, when combined with a few others later, as something to save me. You see, I never want MY suicide to be anyone’s excuse for giving up. I finally realized God didn’t give up on me; God kept holding onto me when I couldn’t hold on.

I try to explain to people that that’s part of the difference between religion and spirituality to me. Religion to me is the specifics of one’s beliefs and how you live out and cultivate them. Spirituality is the guts of faith, realizing I’m not the be all or end all; it’s about humility and relationship. So I decided I couldn’t give up on the Good Orderly Direction of existence that continued to value me as a part of itself; I couldn’t ever “give up” again if I hadn’t done my part. I have to ask myself in every moment of crisis, “Have I done absolutely everything I can to help myself?” I’ve never since that time been able to answer “yes”, so I survive one day at a time through even my darkest moments. It’s just sometimes I’m only hurting terribly, really sad, and even depressed. But other times, I become downright miserable. I don’t have to be miserable. So, again, just for today, I choose joy over misery.

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Recovery Part 1: Breathing Well in Cape Cod – photo illustrated

No more wading in muck...

Recovery means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the general public seems to interpret “in recovery” as meaning “I used to be an active alcoholic/addict, but I’m no longer using.” Many would add “…and I work a Twelve-Step program.” Although I did use substances as a means of self-medicating for a time in my life, I’m blessed to have never become physically addicted. Recognizing my psychological addiction, I did begin my recovery in some of those groups. I’m grateful for the sponsor who helped me realize my addiction was to trying to escape. I’ve also been a part of “recovery” programs for mental health disorders (OCD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Major Depression). Not until recently have I let “recovery” as related to my physical health fall into the same category. With roughly 20 chronic medical condition, I’m often recovering from some bout of illness or flair-up of symptoms. However, for a very long time I was in denial about my declining health. It’s pretty hard to make progress on the path around the pond if you’re still unsuccessfully trying to wade through it. So “recovery” from my physical ailments overall means experiencing and working through the entire process of grieving my healthy self.

What I mean by recovery is something all are a part of at least for some length of time in their life. Recovery means regaining what is lost. Recovery is a process that requires active participation and what has been lost may or may not be due to our own intentions or actions, but it most certainly refers to our joie de vivre – our passion, our reason for being, our hopes, our dreams. Recovery requires honesty, willingness, open-mindedness, flexibility, patience, courage, and perseverance. My recovery is about regaining and reclaiming my reason for being. It’s about becoming the me I’m meant to be, about actively pursuing my full potential, whatever that might be. Stress, physical and emotional, is the biggest contributor to the demise of my health. I’m learning that recovery means making a lot of little, but difficult, changes. I’m exploring both the sources of and remedies for stress in my life. As time goes on, I hope to chronicle my discoveries and my progress.

Some years ago, after two malfunctions of equipment in my past home caused flooding, we simply could not get our recently heart-broken landlord to properly address the problems in a timely manner. At the same time, I was struggling as co-guardian with a frequently violent preteen boy. Moving just didn’t seem a manageable option. Mold set in under the carpet and climbed up the walls of our linen closet. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, an air filter shoved by a previous tenant into an air duct (not where it belonged and not visible from the air vents at either end of the duct) was collecting layer upon layer of dust and all that is a part of it. Ultimately, my already weakened immune system, inundated with allergens, was overwhelmed. I developed serious allergies to an indoor/outdoor mold, dust mites (that fed off dead skin cells), and both the dander and saliva of cats. Already having mild to moderate exercise-induce asthma, that condition worsened. In addition, I developed moderate to severe “regular” asthma. This was a hard blow to someone who at one time played sports year-round, someone who once walked 25 miles continuously, someone who loved to run and jump and play well into adulthood.

I’ll continue to tell you about my recovery in relation to my other conditions, but let me start with the allergies and asthma. We did move a few years ago into a duplex my former roommate decided to buy. Originally the top floor was reserved for a renter beside me, but realizing that the dust mites from her two dogs and a cat were causing repeated sinus headaches that interfered with my sleep and sometimes triggered migraines, I eventually had to move upstairs. My former roommate was by then my spouse and we could no longer consistently share a bed without abandoning the pets who’d become family too, not to mention withdrawing attention from a needy and destructive child who’d been neglected and abused by his biological parents. Even still, I was in denial. I’d move about too quickly, climb the stairs one too many times, take on a teenager on the basketball court at the close-by elementary, attempt coaching double-header youth soccer games, and continue to take no notice of air quality warnings. I would find myself desperately grasping for my inhaler. I drilled myself into the ground. My immune system was shot; I felt sick most of the time.

Progressing on a new path...

Recently, I returned from a vacation on Cape Cod. While I was there, I was very aware of the difference in my breathing. I could walk a few miles, even uphill without shortness of breath. The air there is unpolluted, moist and cool. No pets were shedding about me. I felt such immense freedom and energy. By the second day upon returning to our pet-filled home in a Midwestern metropolis, I was sluggish, headache-y, and struggling to breathe again. I’d for a long time found it difficult to remember my daily inhaler. Yet, before we left for vacation, I was having to use my rescue inhaler sometimes 3 times per day. Daily heat indexes of 115 and orange air quality were too much for me. Well, having tasted the freedom of breathing again, I made that daily inhaler a priority. My excuse before was that it didn’t fit in my med box and placing it on top often caused it to be lost when accidentally knocked aside. I’ve found a padded case, in which I now store both of my inhalers and a supply of emergency PRN medications, that holds its place well atop my med box. This method seems to be improving my compliance and the results are promising.

I’m putting forth other efforts too. I’ve begun to think, as well, how I might visit the Northeast Coast more regularly. Perhaps I could house-sit, but I’d still need funds to get there. Well, I don’t have all the answers yet. When I go for a PT initial assessment next week, I plan to inquire how best to build my endurance safely. I, also, was lucky enough to discover in a bookstore’s bargain bin a book detailing cardiovascular conditioning, core balance, and strengthening exercises using one of those big inflated balls. I’d learned some exercises before in PT, but had forgotten them and been unable to find anything but directions for strengthening exercises since. Now I’ve just got to get a pump for my ball. I’m moving in a new direction. I’m not doing the same old thing. I know I’m not a sports star anymore. I won’t shame myself for not being able to walk more than half of a block right now. However, I believe I can progress. I’m in recovery.

Dealing with Fear: Walk; Don’t Run! – illustrated reflection

The painting illustrating this article is an original painting created by using a computer simulated oil brush and pen which were manipulated on the screen by moving my finger on a 1 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch touchpad.

Throughout our lives, we face times where our primitive urge to fly, fight or freeze kicks in. We are terrified. Sometimes we don’t know of what. Sometimes the fear is buried so deep, we don’t even realize we are afraid. Many, gasping for breath and reaching blindly into the dark, don’t even realize they’re running. Most often, when I’ve been afraid, I’ve tended toward flight. We think we are in danger and when we truly are in the bodily sense, these responses serve a purpose to protect us. And even when our bodies can’t escape danger, we have inborn ways of escaping mentally. However, whatever the reason, when we take flight in fear, we run full force toward nowhere and often in circles. Mentally, we escape to the desert of our soul where we slowly wither under the glaring sun of Truth. Some never find their way back.

I spent many years running away. I tried to self-medicate with alcohol and sniffing. I hid in a flurry of white lies, ashamed of minor mistakes. I ran to the arms of flattery, not believing in my own self-worth. I mumbled feeble complaints, assuming any request for help would be answered only with judgement. I got caught in a cycle of binging and starving to gain a false sense of control. I absorbed knowledge to avoid opinion. I had break-downs, collapsing into hospital care to avoid taking responsibility for helping myself. I tried over and over to drug myself into oblivion, an ultimate escape. Some roads I have barred myself from, but some are paths that I race down out of habit.

I have overextended myself to the point of serious illness, hoping beyond hope to prove that the walls of my personal limitations would somehow crumble under the force of sheer will. I have tried to save others because I felt powerless to save myself. I have sought perfection in rituals, unconvinced within my depths of my inherent adequacy. I have intellectualized to avoid feeling my emotions, certain they had the power to destroy me. Yet I’ve claimed ignorance when faced with the possibility of being wrong, or of making a “wrong” decision. While ready to collapse, having nearly exhausted my ability to cope, I’ve teased smiles and laughter from stoic professionals. These are my demons. Over-committing, rescuing, perfectionism, intellectualizing, fence-sitting and misplaced humor are still tendencies difficult to resist when panic sets my feet in motion.

Repeatedly, I’ve managed to find my way back, but I must be aware of those patterns of flight if I wish to chart my course toward more fertile ground. I must not only resist these tendencies, but counter them. I must proactively apply strategies which reduce the likelihood of the need to run. When anxiety inches into my heart, I soothe it with a side road jaunt. Instead of getting ready to run, I slow my pace. I talk to family, friends, my treatment team, and my Higher Power. I lose myself in the magic of music. I feel the beat, rewrite the words, sing at the top of my lungs. I read what uplifts me, inspires me. I write, sometimes for release or distraction, sometimes to increase my mindfulness of the present moment. And sometimes, sometimes I write to remind myself of what I’ve learned – where I’ve been and where I want to go. Today, I’d rather walk, walk the path that will get me somewhere. I know that, even if I’m not sure exactly where I want to go, if I want to arrive in a better place, I must heed the command “Walk; don’t run!”

You CAN be Perfect!

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...

Image via Wikipedia

To affirm, simply put, is to add firmness to. To affirm yourself, therefore, is to add firmness to you and to your self, to strengthen both your definition of yourself and your very being. Start by affirming what is known truth – you are human. What does it mean to be human? A human is not all powerful. A human is not all knowing. A human is imperfect. A human feels. Emotions convey a message. Fear tells us we do not know something. Fear is  useful. Fear is normal. Fear is to be expected. We have no reason to fear fear. Likewise, we have no reason to act is if we are fearless or to avoid anything that might evoke fear. Doing so reflects a form of perfectionism. Do not be afraid to fail or to succeed. You can be perfect – perfectly human, perfectly you.
We are meant to strive toward perfection, but neither to reach it nor to expect to reach it. To have a different mindset is to challenge God, to believe we can be equal. To judge ourselves unworthy of God’s love and mercy reflects an expectation that we can be perfect. Thus we manifest our true sin, pride. In refusing God’s love and likewise refusing to love ourselves, God’s creation, we withdraw our trust in God alone. We again forget we are of God. We no longer clearly and consistently recognize God. We begin to fail to see the God in others, but rather see only the façade which their separation from God requires them to create. We, in turn, seek affection from them instead of the God within they are meant to manifest. Hence, God is no longer our first and only love. We lose our way. We separate ourselves even further from the source of our very being, the only Perfect, in whom when we are ultimately united we are perfected in love.
So quit trying to be perfect. When anxieties arise, recognize the feeling as a reminder that you are human, just as you are meant to be. Rejoice that you do not know everything because it is not your responsibility or your burden. Affirm that you not only have a right to be afraid, but that it is normal to fear. Yes, I say rejoice that you have been wonderfully made, that you are extraordinarily ordinary. Rejoice that you know God and that God’s strength is yours for the asking. Just for today, choose to be, strive to be perfectly human. Tell yourself, ” I am perfectly human, naturally flawed, extraordinarily ordinary, wonderfully unique. I am meant to feel and to fail, to find favor and forgiveness in the fullness of God, forever and the only the Perfector of Souls.”  AFFIRMATION: Just for today, I accept and rejoice that I am a human being, created and loveable just as I am.

Two Ships That Crash in the Night: Bipolar, Personality, Relationships

The Starry Night

Image via Wikipedia

Failed relationships amongst people with Bipolar occurs for multiple reason, almost all of which are rectifiable, so there IS HOPE.  1) Ignorance – educate yourself about Bipolar in a way that you can accurately relay it to others besides just explaining how you “feel” or what you “do”. Gain more of a medical understanding. From there, consider how and when to educate others – my Journal entry, “Do You Hear Me? Are You With Me?” may be helpful. 2) Alienation – Persons with Bipolar have a low tolerance for distress and difficulty with emotional regulation. All people when highly stressed, revert to unhealthy coping skills and make unhealthy choices.  When we do so, we alienate (push away) others. As we make healthier coping skills habit, learn distress tolerance and emotional regulation techniques, employ tactics for reducing our overall stress-load and make amends for past harmful actions, we ill see improvements in our relationships. Although originally designed for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is fast becoming the method most successful in treating a variety of disorders marked by emotional dysregulation, including Bipolar Disorder. DBT is an interactive educational therapy, usually presented to a group in a class with the support of individual DBT coaching to learn application of the techniques to personal circumstances. However, even if it is not available in your area, you are not without options. There is a DBT workbook just for persons with Bipolar. You can also check out http://www.dbtselfhelp.com. Therapy in general is a key component of treatment for Bipolar. 3) Withdrawal – Whether because we feel misunderstood, we’re afraid of hurting others or of embarrassing ourselves, or because getting out just seems like too much effort, we CHOOSE to withdraw. Isolating ourselves is probably the worst thing to do if we want recovery but the easiest thing to cling to if we want to avoid change. Recovery requires change. Change necessitates loss. Loss leads to grief. The process of grief, until resolved, is unpleasant. When the pain of remaining the same is more than the pain of change, it is then that we begin to recover. For most o f us, recovery is stop and start. Far too many people stop here and don’t start again. That is called choosing misery. Misery is the opposite of joy. It is an attitude in action, reject and retreat. Misery is not to be confused with sadness, an emotional response to stimuli. It also is not depression, a neurobiological response to a chemical imbalance caused by genetic defect, neurological damage or the exhaustion of our ability to cope. Being miserable is a cognitive response, sometimes a subconscious one, to our emotions. 4) Personality Disorder – The Personality Disorders Described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) were designed to reflect the natural tendencies of all persons when highly stressed. When unhealthy patterns of relating to others becomes habitually, usually due to diminished coping resources or prolonged high levels of stress, and create disorder (a repeated inability to function in a way beneficial to one’s progress toward self-actualization) in a person’s life, such person usually meets the criteria for a Personality Disorder. It should be easy to see why persons with one of the major psychiatric conditions is also likely to have a Personality Diagnosis. However, it is SO common that many psychiatrist don’t bother making a separate diagnosis. Most therapists operate under an assumption that such a diagnosis exists, with certain ones being more common to each of the various Axis I diagnoses, which in turn often gives them a clue to appropriate areas of focus for intervention. Whether a “full-fledged” Personality Disorder exists or not, our common patterns of relating that arise from our struggle with Bipolar, rather than the actual symptoms of Bipolar are more often the cause of our failed relationships than anything else. This is one of the most compelling reasons to enter long-term therapy with an appropriately trained professional. Armed with this knowledge and these suggestions, you can put an end to loneliness as soon as you are ready. I am on the journey myself. Come join me.

Imagined Reality – image

Reality, you seem so true, but I know I only imagined you. Tomorrow, I’ll imagine a brighter hue. Indeed, we are co-creators and tomorrow is another day! Be mindful of the present. Believe in the power of a positive attitude. Be willing to dream and create. Perception is quite the artist, but attitude is its muse. Hope. Live. Love.

How to Love Stupid People

warning about stupidity

Image via Wikipedia

I first must make clear that ignorance is a lack of knowledge, skills, or understanding. While stupidity is often interchanged with the word ignorant, its theoretical meaning differs vastly. The outcome of both may produce the same actions, but stupidity is in fact a character defect rather than a condition. Both may prevail unceasingly until death, but the latter is far more difficult to eradicate. Stupidity in the sense that I mean it here is better equated with a lack of willingness, a mental attitude that dismisses evidence and experience and reason, the source or sister to insanity – that being the repetition of destructive or self-destructive acts with the expectation that the consequences of one’s actions will magically lose their destructive force and may in fact result in the opposite. Ignorance is relatively easy to remedy – feed the mind and the rest will follow. Stupidity however requires patience, fervent effort, and diligence. To step beyond stupidity requires a deep humility, so deep as to see ourselves exactly for who we are with no judgment at all – positive or negative. Many are not capable of such honesty. Second, before I continue, I want you the reader to know that neither ignorance nor stupidity can be generalized to every part of a person’s being. So, like my co-contributors (as you’ll see this theme elsewhere), I could never truthfully or with good conscience call a person stupid or ignorant, except rarely perhaps if I qualified in what manner or area. For we are all stupid and ignorant in some manner to some degree at different points in our life.
Now, why is such clarification necessary? It is needed because it is a groundwork upon which we may develop empathy, grow in our ability to forgive, find serenity and live with joy. Never have I come to a point of perfection in these goals, but also never have I gotten a start without first building on my understanding of my own and others’ ignorance and stupidity in any situation. Furthermore, failing to do so has sadly led me to act “unrighteously” with a self-righteous attitude more than once. Recently our prayer group discussed how to handle being accused of something unfairly by someone in fact guilt of what they accused you. Sometimes we hold certain persons to higher expectations because of their intelligence or their charisma. We think they ought to know better. We must remember that we’ve all been privy to experiences uniquely our own and each experience affects how we assimilate learning from the next. Therefore, even two children brought up in the same household with the same parents in what seems much the same way experience life differently and therefore do not share exactly the same knowledge, skills, and understanding. So back to the issue our group discussed, I do not wish to focus on the details but just to offer some general thoughts. Without a doubt, knowing little of most people’s lives, it behooves me for my own peace of mind to assume that a person acts unkindly out of ignorance rather than stupidity. Afterall, I have a much better chance of positively influencing them and less reason to take their actions personally.
So, it is important to bear in mind that the strength with which one conveys her/his convictions or the hurtful manner in which s/he delivers them does not negate the presence of ignorance. In fact, it proves it all the more. For a person who is not ignorant of how to be assertive has not reason to be anything but assertive, for in communication nothing is gained and more is lost by aggression, passive-aggression and passivity than by assertion. And since it by communication that we relate, a most necessary aspect of our humanity and our spiritual growth, a person not ignorant of assertion would choose to be assertive. Only someone with no interest in spiritual growth or righteousness AND yet with knowledge of how to be assertive who chooses to act in an unassertive manner could be found entirely at fault in choosing to thus communicate. Of course such a person would likely not care enough to consistently be assertive, for they would likely not care about the rights of others and neither would they likely care what anyone thought of their choices. In such a case though, does not Jesus advise us two things? One, we are told to set right in their pathway those of our OWN Christian community and then only according to the administration of justice upheld by our community. Two, where the gospel is rebuked, we are to shake even the dust of where we have tread from our feet. On a final note I must say, if I persist in choosing to feel slighted by others’ ignorance, I am stupid. Now, certainly, much more could be said on this subject, but I think we have found an adequately place to let the issue rest. God be with you.