Mental Cleanse Challenge – Days 8 & 9

You all know I’ve been trying my absolute hardest to complete the Mental Cleanse Challenge, and, honestly, I’ve been struggling with it. 

The plague that’s blown through my house this past week prevailed yesterday. I apologize for not posting, but I spent the vast majority of the day in bed. In the afternoon, I was feeling a bit better, so I grabbed some fresh air and spent time with my mother and her husband outside boiling down sap.

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I know, can I GET more Vermont-y?

The idea was to get outside, enjoy the sun, and then come in, energized from the Vitamin D, and write my post. But, it turned out, I was less energized and more completely exhausted. So, while the sinus pressure simultaneously wiped me out and prevented me from getting any restful sleep, it also made the idea of sitting in front of a computer and typing out a coherent post for you wonderful readers rather impossible. I hope you forgive me!

My goal for yesterday was to get up earlier than Katie, read, and share a poem. This, obviously, did not happen. Though, sitting outside for the few hours I felt awake enough, breathing in Spring, smelling the wood burn and the sap boil and slowly turn to maple syrup, and enjoying some conversation with my family was likely more effective self-care than reading a poem. So, I’m chalking that up to a win.

Today, learning a new song on the guitar was the goal. That did not happen, either. One of my main goals with this blog is to be honest about my experiences in hopes of destigmatizing issues around mental health, and, hopefully, helping others to feel a little less alone. So, I want to share openly and honestly that today was rough. Not being able to sleep last night put me at a bit of a disadvantage in being able to do important things like grounding when feeling panicky, flash back-y, or generally on edge. All of these feelings increase in frequency when I’m sleep deprived. So, I spent most of the day trying (and failing) to sleep with the exception of a few hours’ worth of catnaps, and trying (and failing) to stay grounded and present while awake. Today was heavy on the dissociative symptoms common with PTSD. Which, while not fun, are things I have to accept sometimes. There are good days, there are ok days, there are not-so-good days, and there are bad days. Today was a bad day.

IMG_20170410_210803_767Thankfully, I was able to get a solid two hour nap in immediately before my daughter came home, which helped me stay present and focused during my time with her. I ended the day on a positive note with a lot of mama/daughter snuggles. These are always the best evenings, no matter how challenging the day. And, she’s learned to make a heart with her fingers! (A skill she was very eager to show me.)

Unfortunately, the nap has thrown my sleep tonight. Luckily, I’ve got my second appointment with my new therapist tomorrow, and hopefully that, plus a PRN sleeping aid, will help me reset and get back on track.

While, objectively, I did not meet my goals the past two days, I hope you’ll humor me in celebrating the “small victories.”

Oh, and for inquiring minds, here’s the poem I planned to share (main message: don’t beat yourselves up! Which, I might say, is rather fitting at the moment, at least for me.)

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

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Mental Cleanse Challenge – Taking Down the All or Nothing T-Rex

My goal for self care today was to get some face-to-face time with a friend. Sometimes, self care means being flexible with plans, though. My daughter is sick. Poor little girl has had a cough, on-and-off low grade fever, and a very upset stomach for the past three days. This morning, I woke up feeling the same symptoms. As such, seeing a friend was off the table. So, I had to be flexible.

Flexibility is something with which I sometimes struggle. At baseline, I despise the unknown. It creates anxiety. When I’m in a manic swing, of course, I become the adventurer – I’m ready to charge head first into any situation, the more interesting and “off-limits” the better. But today is not a manic day. In fact, I’m on the downswing having been fairly hypomanic for the past week. So, I spent the majority of my day resting, both due to sickness and due to the exhaustion that hits when you’ve had a grand total of  24 hours of sleep in the last 7 days. Still, through the resting, I also felt pretty anxious about what I would post tonight. Because I am dedicated to this challenge and to giving you consistent content.

Sometimes, though, flexibility is self care. Even if you hate it. Self care is being gentle with yourself even when you don’t accomplish what you hoped. Self care is cutting yourself some slack when you’re sick and wiped out. Self care is acknowledging that you feel disappointed for not reaching your goal, but also realizing that it’s not the end of the world.

In DBT, there’s an emphasis on different types of thinking that can get you into trouble. One is “All or Nothing” thought. I’ve seen this in practice in both my personal and professional life. I worked with a client once who really struggled with money. He would spend every dollar he got within two days of getting it and, on more than one occasion, he got himself into some pretty serious debt. He refused to follow a savings plan, because, when he did decide to save, he would say, “I’m not going to spend any money! I’m putting all of it into savings!” and then, when he would inevitably see the balance in his account and spend over half of it on food or electronics or whatever, that was “proof” that he was incapable of saving, “so why even try?” he’d say. And then he’d blow through money again for a few months, then try to save every cent again. It was a vicious cycle, and as staff, I was incapable of getting through to him on this particular issues. Realistically, if he put $25 out of each paycheck into savings and spent the rest on whatever he wanted without guilt, not only would he not be perpetuating the self-defeat and shame he felt each time he binged on spending, he also would likely succeeded in actually saving money.

I struggle with all or nothing a lot, too. In many different areas of my life. Either I’m working 60+ hours a week, or I’m not working at all. Either I’m in a great mood, or I’m pissy and irritable. Either I’m doing everything perfectly or I suck at life. Either I’m hitting my self care goals or I’ve failed the whole challenge and need to walk away. Obviously, this is not true. But I spent the majority of the day needing to convince myself that it wasn’t true. Even as I started typing this, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be writing. And a big part of me felt like missing the self care goal for today meant I couldn’t post about anything. And that thought quickly grew – if I don’t post about the challenge today, how can I post about it tomorrow? How can I post about anything? I should just stop blogging. I’m too inconsistent. And I can’t write well anyway. I never should have started this challenge. I never should have started this blog! I’m such a failure! 

See how quickly the primordial slime of All or Nothing thinking grows the legs of negative self talk and crawls through your mind until it’s a full-blown T-Rex trying to eat any ounce of self confidence you have? All of the negative thought patterns are interconnected, and once one creeps in, you know it’s going to bring it’s friends and grow into something that feels threatening and impossible to fight. So, sometimes self care is “Acting the Opposite” of what your backwards and unhelpful thoughts growl in your ear, snarl through your being. It’s writing the damn post even when you didn’t meet your goal for the day, just to prove to that T-Rex in your brain that you’ve got tools and strength and bravery and you’re able to take it down.

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Like it? I drew it myself… Ok, maybe I’ll stick to writing.

Mental Cleanse Challenge – Therapy and Journal

Today’s challenge is a little more personal than the other ones I’ve been sharing in that it’s not necessarily a “tool” to share with you. If you want to read the more practical self-care posts I’ve done, check out G.L.A.D./ What’s Not Wrong? and 50 Things to Do, Become, or Be. And, if you want the run down on this challenge, check that out here.

While today’s tasks were not “tool based”, it was quite an important day in my little world! Today, I had my first appointment with my new therapist, and I think it went well! It was an intake, so it was like flying a drone over the landscape of my life and getting the distant, overhead synopsis of the general lay of the land. This meant giving a bullet point style recount of basic trauma’s I’ve experienced, running over the hospital and the things that brought me there, and symptoms of PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar and how each of those things manifest in my life – so it was a pretty heavy duty conversation to just have and leave. I understand it was necessary, but listing everything “wrong” with me with someone taking notes on the computer was a little disconcerting. Add in giving the overview of traumas I’ve sustained and I’m pretty done with people for the day.

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That said, she was really  empathetic and seemed genuine. It’s the first time I’ve met with someone since all this started that my work history wasn’t either tossed to the side and ignored or used in a condescending manner against me (as in “Well, it’s just policy. You know all about that because you worked in the field.” in response to me trying to advocate to get into treatment sooner). She was actually familiar with the group home in which I worked by name and reputation. So, her response when I told her was, “Oooh, so your work was keeping you hyper vigilant, too, because those boys can get pretty rough sometimes from what I know.” When asking about my work and schooling, she seemed to actually view those experiences as strengths, rather than this unknown anomaly that she couldn’t integrate into treatment. And that was really refreshing, because my career in mental health has been such a huge part of my identity for the last five years that having it ignored or thrown in my face repeatedly has been pretty discouraging.

When I got home, I wrote about it in my journal and also made note of a few other things that have been going on. I’ve been slacking on entries in my physical journal, so I’m going to try to get better at that. I think it’s very helpful, both for processing the treatment journey and as keeping an in-the-moment log of thoughts and events should I ever write a book or something. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

So, that’s day four of my Mental Cleanse. What have you been doing today to help in your recovery or for on-going self care? If you want to share it, I want to hear it! 🙂 Leave a comment below or hit me up on social media!

Mental Cleanse Challenge – 50 Things to Do, Become, or Be

I want to apologize for this post coming so late. It’s been a challenging day for the creature that is my brain to focus on anything for too long a time. In case you missed it, or you’re a new visitor (HI!), I’m participating in the 30 day Mental Cleanse Challenge in which I do a pre-planned self care activity every day and then share it with you!

I’ve actually practiced a lot of self-care today! It was a rainy, windy, damp, and chilled day; so I stayed in most of the day and enjoyed some delicious Chocolate Chai Adagio Tea.

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This is not, nor will it ever be, a product blog – but this stuff is REALLY good, and one of my absolute best friends does artwork for their “Fandom” line – so I like to support them and give a shout out every now and then!

I saw my doctor this morning and the appointment went really well! Given all the issues I’ve been having and continue to have with getting into psychiatric services, he finally agreed to fill my RXs for a month! (As opposed to me needing to go to the pharmacy every few days.) Sometimes, you’ve got to take your small victories where you can. I am optimistic that, very soon, I’ll actually be connected to the care team I was supposed to have when I left the Intensive Outpatient Program! Tomorrow is my first appointment with my new therapist, so I’m feeling a little nervous about that, but I’m cautiously hopeful that it will go well.

After the errand-running, I stretched out on comfy blankets on my living room floor and listened to some of my favorite music through headphones. 

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This is an underrated self-care technique, I think. Being immersed in the beautiful complexity of a song you love, hearing nothing but the layers of instruments and vocals, and relaxing is probably one of the best feelings in the world (at least if you love music). I don’t get to do it often, but my daughter is with her father today, so I just locked the door and actually allowed myself to kick back a little.

WHILE ALL OF THESE ACTIVITIES ARE GREAT “CHECK MARKS” IN THE SELF CARE COLUMN, NONE OF THEM REFLECT MY ACTUAL SELF CARE GOAL FOR THE DAY. 

I have a list called “50 Things to Do, Become, or Be.” It’s like a bucket list, but more directed and coherent. While some items on my list are decidedly “traditional” bucket list things – like go to Hawaii, learn to SCUBA dive, go to Vancouver see wild Orcas, and take a cross-country road trip – most of them actually pertain to the kind of person I want to be.

Each column tends to be interconnected and can even help with “action steps” to reach some of those bigger dreams. For example, I have always hoped to be a published author. I want to “Be” creative, I want to “Become” unrestrained by anxiety, I want to “Do” more writing courses. Each of these aspirations work together, as you can see.

Now, I’m not one for “goal setting.” I think that it tends to get overwhelming and fuel anxiety and then depression/ self-loathing if the goal isn’t met. So this list is more a general outline of the things I’d like to be and do in this world.

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I did not learn this idea in structured treatment; however, I did learn it while in the hospital. Another patient, who has become a close friend of mine, shared it with me. It’s a distraction from depression and anxiety. It’s a tangible list of things to which I aspire. On the really bad days, it could be called “50 Reasons to Keep Fighting”, and on the good days, it’s inspiration.

My goal today was to “check off” one item on my list. Most of the things on my list are sort of on-going. It’s a living document, I suppose. Always subject to change and adjustments and, when I’m stable and doing well, it’s more a tool to check my perceptions and see how I’m doing actually “living life” instead of just “surviving”.

Today, I took tangible steps toward reaching some of the things I want to Do, Become, or Be. I signed up for a free 12 day course on writing called The Writer’s DNA, which is proving to be very interesting and insightful so far (I’m finished lesson One of Seven). And, I actually did a pretty good job eating healthy food today as one thing I hope to Become more physically fit to enable me to Do things like go on more hikes. (Seroquel sucks for weight gain and it’s been a pretty big struggle of mine over the past month – so I’m trying to do what I can to lessen that particular side effect.)

So, that’s been my day in self-care. How did you do today? Did you do something fun? Something relaxing? Something to keep yourself safe/ self-soothe if it’s been a particularly rough one? What do you think about this “Ultimate Bucket List”? I’d love to hear about your day and your thoughts on this little self-care tool!

Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter!

Mental Cleanse Challenge – G.L.A.D./ What’s Not Wrong?

Day two of the Mental Cleanse Challenge for me! My goal for self-care today is one of my favorite techniques to keep a running reality-check of my current situation. It’s a great way to combat the negative thoughts that can bombard me when I’m depressed. It’s quick and relatively easy, and it’s a wonderful little journaling tool to focus, at least for a few minutes a day, on the positives that are happening. (No, I’m not saying that positive thinking can eradicate depression or anxiety or Bipolar or PTSD or any mental health struggle – we all know that’s a metric shit-ton of bull.) But this self-care tool does help you counteract negative self talk and distortions. Depression tells us we’re failures and we’re not accomplishing anything with our lives. Anxiety tells us everything is wrong and we can’t possibly function as normal humans. In my struggles with Bipolar Affective Disorder, the swings can make it hard to keep track of what’s what. Sometimes, I’m untouchable and everything is “great” (though, objectively, everything is not great and I’m in for a manic episode if I’m not diligent with my treatment); sometimes, I feel so depressed I’m not even sad, I’m just numb, and I know that nothing will ever get better and I’m doomed to live life disconnected and emotionless (ahhh, the lies of depression). With PTSD, I can get so stuck in my past or so anxious about the future that it’s tricky to stay in, or even really see, the present.

This technique has helped immensely, in all of those areas. I learned it while in the Partial Hospitalization Program, in a DBT group. I look forward to doing it each day. I wanted to share it with you as a part of this challenge, as it is one of my go-to, ongoing self-care tools and I thought it may be helpful to some of you out there in Internet world, too!

So, what is this G.L.A.D./ What’s Not Wrong trick I use? G.L.A.D. is adapted from the book The Mindfulness Toolbox by Donald Altman. (Gotta cite the source.)

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This is my journal. I like laying it out with “What’s Not Wrong?” on one page and G.L.A.D on the other, but you could just as easily put them on the same page, reverse positioning- whatever you like – you do you! 

It’s really simple. Take a minute or two out of your day, every day, to write down one Gratitude, one thing you Learned, one small Accomplishment, and one Delight you experienced. (See what they did with the acronym there? Clever, right?) As for the “What’s Not Wrong?” portion, challenge yourself to think of at least one thing that is not wrong in your life right now. If you’re really struggling, it could be something as basic as “I’m breathing” or “There are shoes on my feet” or “At this exact moment, I’m warm.” If you’re not struggling as much, feel free to broaden the scope: “I have a good job.” “I have a home.” etc. Usually, I’m somewhere in the middle of those two. But, again, it’s about being in the absolute present moment if you’re really having a difficult time.

My entry for today is as follows:

What’s Not Wrong?

I got Katie to school on time today; I’m starting to figure out solutions to the “no income” issue; I’ve been writing every single day for over a week.

G.L.A.D.

Gratitude: I’m grateful for the community of advocates I’ve connected with on WordPress & Twitter – they uplift and encourage me and let me know I’m not alone.

Learned: I learned that I can push back my phone bill for a few weeks! This is also another thing I’m grateful for!

Accomplishment: I made some phone calls, which made me anxious, but I did them anyway.

Delight: My coffee was on point this morning! Perfect ratio of coffee:milk:sugar.

 

There you have it! My self-care tool of the day. Do you think that using the GLAD/What’s Not Wrong journal might be helpful to you? DO you have a different journaling technique to reflect on the positives and small victories of living with mental health diagnoses? Do you think this is a load of hippie-dippie new age crap? Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear them! Tweet, Facebook, or Comment below!

Mental Cleanse Challenge

I found this fantastic idea on Purple Owl’s Blog, and she got it from someone else, who got it from someone else – isn’t the internet amazing? Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care and self-love this past week, and I’ve shared with you my favorite emergency self-care techniques, but this idea for some added, lighthearted accountability seems like a really good idea right about now. Maybe you could benefit from jumping on the Mental Cleanse bandwagon, too? (Hey! It’s good for you!)

So, I’m a day behind to have this fit neatly into the “one month box” BUT I’m gonna do it anyway. Boxes be damned! For the next 30 days, I will be completing the corresponding self-care activity on this list and making a short post about it (in addition to my regularly scheduled, longer form posts, of course). Some of the items on this list might not make sense to you reading them at first, as I’ll be using some self-care tricks I learned in the hospital, in the partial hospitalization program, and in the intensive outpatient program; but I promise to detail each one in the actual daily posts I make.

So, here’s my 30 day list for the rest of April and the first of May.

  1. Set goals and introduce the plan, then take a long, hot shower.
  2. G.L.A.D./ What’s Not Wrong
  3. Check one thing off 50 Things to Do, Become, or Be
  4. FIRST therapy appointment with new therapist – be honest; come home and journal
  5. Get some face-to-face time with a friend.
  6. Yoga Routine/ Radical Acceptance
  7. Play Mario with Katie
  8. Get up earlier than Katie & read & share poem
  9. Learn a new song on the guitar
  10. Review journal and consider one new thing I learned since writing that entry
  11. Watch an episode of Buffy or X-Files, geek out
  12. Do one Self-Soothing activity   
  13. Listen to Pink Floyd with headphones on
  14. Video Chat/ Phone Call a friend
  15. Watch a movie I’ve never seen before
  16. Drink a cup of tea & journal
  17. Make plans with friends for when Katie is gone
  18. Check off one more thing on 50 Things…
  19. Watch a motivational video, share it, and talk about it
  20. Wear something that makes me feel pretty
  21. Do one thing to get in touch with deep emotions
  22. Read something uplifting
  23. Practice mindfulness for 30 minutes throughout the day
  24. Cook dinner with Katie – don’t be afraid to make a mess!
  25. Go on a picture taking adventure
  26. Practice grounding techniques/ mindfulness when I don’t need them
  27. Back road drive
  28. Get outside!
  29. Go to bed earlier than normal
  30. Mint mask & reflect on the past 30 days

So, there’s my list! Want to join in? I’d love to hear your plans! Let me know if you’re going to participate by tweeting me at @paradichotomy (here), participating in the challenge on my Facebook page, or in the comments below! Let’s all give ourselves 30 days of solid self-care and see where it gets us!
Now, I’m off to take that hot shower. (I don’t think you need details on that one!) Have a wonderful night!