On the Good Days

Today was a really good day. Sweatshirt weather, sunshine, Vitamin D, time spent with a friend (who I actually met while at inpatient treatment), and connecting to a lot of really cool resources in my area! I spent a good chunk of the day exploring Burlington with my friend and taking pictures. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, photography is my absolute favorite form of non-traditional mindfulness.

In the type of treatment I am receiving, mindfulness is considered a necessary component to successful application of the tools I’m learning, but it’s a big struggle for me. I’m working now on getting more comfortable with traditional mindfulness practice (focusing on my breath, doing progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditations, etc.) but it’s definitely difficult. This is a PTSD thing. See, the idea of closing my eyes in a room full of people and blocking out external stimuli is in direct conflict with the hyper-vigilance that comes in the PTSD gift basket. Focusing on my body and breath actually tends to cause me to panic and dissociate, because, physically, it reminds me of trying to stop crying in dangerous situations. When I was a kid, my stepfather would say that often-uttered phrase “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Except, he meant it. If things didn’t turn around quickly, someone was getting hurt. So, I’d focus really hard on calming my breathing to stop the tears. That’s what deep-breathing has traditionally been for me. Combine that with closed eyes in a crowded room, and there’s just no way in hell I’m able to participate. So, I’ve needed to be creative in my mindfulness practice, and photography is, by far, my preferred method.

You have to look at the things around you – really look. You have to consider the angle and lighting and how to best convey the feeling or message you’re hoping to put out there. You have to pause to take the actual photo. It’s being completely present in that specific moment. It’s expression. It’s everything I love about mindfulness practice and nothing that trips me up.

So, I spent all afternoon today soaking up the unseasonably warm weather with a friend who provided great company, laughs, and meaningful discussion, taking pictures, and exchanging resources and book titles and apps that we have both found helpful in our respective journeys so far.

There is something to be said – a lot to be said, actually – on the importance of peer connection and support in recovery. Now, my friends and family have all been fantastic supports, and I do not, by any means, want to minimize that. But, unless you’ve been inpatient, you can’t truly understand inpatient. You create inside jokes based on the group facilitators at the hospital, you have a sort of slang built from the bumper-sticker phrases you learned to go along with your therapy, a sort of short-hand you can just toss out at each other when one of you is having a rough time. I’m very happy to say that I’ve kept in touch with three people I met while at Dartmouth, and those relationships have been very helpful in keeping me on-track in my own journey to wellness. Those relationships, though, due to distance,  are mostly limited to on-line interactions (Facebook). Having one of those peers in this area and spending actual face-to-face time connecting with someone who “gets it” is a rare gift, I think. And I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to stay connected with him!

So, today marks the first day since I started this intensive treatment that I’ve honestly hit every box on the little “Wellness Goals” check-list: social connection, group support (acupressure treatment at Turning Point), mindfulness, exercise (we literally walked all over Burlington – close to 5 miles for me, according to my phone), sunshine and fresh-air, completion of some wellness tasks (I was energized from the day out and was therefore able to get some serious cleaning done around my house, I worked some more on my discharge paperwork, and I am writing this blog post), ate a healthy meal (sort of – that was actually a bit of struggle for me, I suppose, but I had a shake and a banana and some peanuts, so that’s something anyway), took all prescribed medications on time, and am on track to head to bed at a reasonable hour and hopefully get some good sleep tonight!

I write a lot about the idea of balance. When you focus on the good days, they kind of help balance out the bad days. It’s just a mater of maintaining that balance. And that’s the task on which I intend to keep working!

***If you’d like to see the pictures I took today, feel free to hop over to my Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/sheilajay47/?hl=en

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