8 Self-Care Techniques for an Impending Mixed Features Episode

OK, it’s transparency time. Transparency is essential to fighting stigma and helping those who may not live with a mental health diagnosis (or diagnoses) understand a little bit of what we face daily. The truth is, sometimes living with Bipolar Affective Disorder is absolutely no fun. This has been the case for me these past two weeks. See, I’m trying to get in a groove with the scheduling for posts on this blog. I’m on track to do that for next week, at least. I have caught an expanded vision for this blog that really excites me, and I’m so looking forward to putting it into action! But, I missed the mark this past week and the week before, and the depression that caused me to miss that mark also tells me what a failure I am and that I will never be able to make this space line up with my vision. Then, the more manic symptoms tell me that I don’t have to. Whatever I do, everyone will love it, and everything I touch will turn to gold because I’m freaking unstoppable. (One symptom of mania is grandiosity, and in me, it tends to take the form of making ridiculous plans and just assuming that everything will come together because, hey, how could it not with how amazing I am.) I’ll be honest, even typing that makes me feel like an arrogant jerk. I hope you’ll forgive me.

I assume if you’re reading this, you’re at least a little familiar with the basics of depression and a Manic episode (links provided in case you’re not). I’d like to briefly describe my experiences with each before getting into the meat of this post. Depression is an aching in my bones. It’s the searing knowledge that nothing has ever been right and nothing will ever be right, but the simultaneous numbing of all pain receptors. It’s feeling my whole body slowly petrify. It’s being unable to get out of bed some days and also being unable to even muster the energy to care. It’s running my fingers through my hair in exhaustion and realizing only then that I’m a greasy mess who hasn’t showered in days. Then, there’s (hypo)mania. When everything is perfect and I am amazing and I can do no wrong. It’s unrestrained energy and excitement. Now, that might sound fun, and it is – at first. I’m charismatic and I can probably get you just as excited as I am about [insert Amazing, World Changing, New Idea here]. But then, things get pretty overwhelming. The best analogy I can come up with is when you go on one of those super-fast, spinny rides at the fair. At first, it’s thrilling; then it starts to make you sick and you wonder when it’s going to stop. It’s being so energized you can’t sit still. It’s having so many ideas flying through your brain that you can’t grab just one. It’s jumping between ten tabs on your browser, all on different topics, and only being able to stick with any one long enough to read a sentence or two, but trying to make sense of what you’re reading anyway. Trying to blend the sentence fragments into a coherent reading experience, then getting frustrated that you can’t make it make sense.

Then, there is the dreaded Mixed State. And it truly is a beast. It’s hard to explain, really, even for me. The technical definition is that you have symptoms of Mania and Depression at the same time or in rapid succession. Try to imagine that for a minute. It’s being depressed but energized. It’s having fantastic ideas of things I want to accomplish all while depression screams in my face that I can never accomplish anything. It’s being hyper and hopeless at the same time. It’s wanting to do nothing but sleep all day, but being unable to sleep at all. It’s pacing the kitchen at 4 AM, crawling in my skin, with quick snapshots of everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life flickering before my eyes, and being simultaneously unable to break the train of thought and unable to focus on just one event or memory. It’s sensory overload on every level. It’s just a big collection of suck.

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Well, here we go! (Resigned to the coming battle)

Were it not for my meds, I have no doubt I would have been in a full-blown Manic with Mixed Features episode these past two weeks. Meds, thankfully, muted the effects a bit. But the basic symptoms were still present, if less severe than they have been in the past.

All of that to say, today is supposed to be a post about self-care. What steps can we take to practice self-care while in the midst of a Mixed Episode? That’s the question of the week!

The first, most important part of self-care with BPAD is pre-episode, daily management. Being aware of subtle changes in your mood, following a schedule, taking a PRN sleep aid the first night you can’t sleep, within the first two hours of trying to sleep and realizing you can’t. Eating well, even when you’re not hungry. Reaching out and connecting with people, even when you don’t feel like it. Taking all of your meds as scheduled. And so on. This is the “do as I say, not as I do” part of the post, I admit. I’m still working on getting a handle on the whole “schedule” thing, I hate my PRN sleep pill because it makes me groggy all of the next day, and I’m not even going to touch the eating thing. That said, I recognize that these things are important and I am working on it!

Alright, you say, preemptive management is good, but what do you do when you’re already barreling toward a Mixed State or in one that hasn’t reached red alert crisis levels yet? Agitated depression, paranoia, no sleep, racing thoughts are here or right around the corner… what can you do?

  • Stick with your meds even though you probably have no interest in taking them. I set alarms in my phone and I know, no matter what, I have to take them when the alarm goes off. This can help minimize the impact of your symptoms on your overall day to day life and prevent the need for a hospitalization or a full-blown crisis situation.
  • Reach out to a friend/family member/treatment team person. Maybe this feels absolutely impossible. But if you’re aware that your mood is spiraling, asking someone you trust to check in every day can be the difference between a rough few weeks and a very dangerous situation. I have a really good friend who calls me four to five times a week and helps me keep track of things. Remember other people have their own lives, though, and you can’t count on them for everything because they have their own stuff going on. But even a 10 minute phone call every other day can go a long way. IMG_20170429_030324_285.jpg

Yes, I’m using a picture from Disney Land. The sword is a metaphor, though. Sometimes we need help. Friends are great at helping. Let your friends help. ❤ 

  • Keep crisis lines saved in your phone. Really. If it’s 4 AM and you’re feeling unable to handle the chaos in your brain, having a support you can call no matter the time of day can be immensely helpful, if not life saving. Keep them in your contacts and use them.
  • Make sure your friends and family know what to look out for. This article may be helpful to share with your family/ friend support system. The fact is, once the episode becomes full blown (whether traditional mania or one with mixed features), we don’t really have the ability to realize what’s going on or what we’re doing or feeling. If you live with BPAD, you know that. That’s where an extra set of eyes (or two, or ten) can really come in handy. Someone outside of you who can help keep tabs and manage things is essential.
  • Avoid alcohol and mind-altering drugs. This is essential. I understand the temptation, that need to do something, anything, to stop feeling what you’re feeling. But it’s just going to make things worse and less manageable for you in the long run. If this is a big struggle for you, take care to avoid triggers during this time. Don’t hang out with friends you drink with. If it’s a REALLY big struggle, have a friend or family member go to the store with you if you need to go so that you don’t convince yourself that buying that bottle of wine on the shelf won’t hurt. Really, it will. I promise. Drinking is going to make things much worse for you. IMG_20170429_040108_636000.png
  • What’s in your Kit Bag? “Kit Bag” is a term I learned from a friend to refer to a sort of “emergency self-care kit”. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend making one now. It doesn’t have to be an actual bag of tangible things. It can just be a list. When you’re recognizing mixed features but they are not yet full blown, it’s time for self-care central. What people, places, and things make you feel most at peace and in control? Hot showers? Mindful cooking? A favorite movie? Calling a friend? Seeing your therapist? Come up with your list and use it! Some people also do have a tangible bag with things like a DVD of said favorite movie, a bottle of favorite bubble-bath, some beloved recipes, notes of encouragement and love from family and friends, etc. Find what works for you and do it.
  • Challenge you’re thinking. If you’ve ever done Cognitive Behavior Therapy, you know that negative self talk and distorted thinking can overtake us at any time. You also know that there are ways to challenge these thoughts. My favorite method is the one that feels the least threatening – I think of one fact that suggests that my negative thoughts are not 100% true, 100% of the time. I say “least threatening” because, as backward as it may sound, my negative self-talk and distorted thoughts are pretty thoroughly ingrained in my mind, and I’m so used to them that the idea of getting rid of them is sometimes more scary than the thought of continuing to live with them. So challenging them outright is always difficult and sometimes impossible. But, I’m also a very analytical person, so finding one fact, one event, one moment in time, that demonstrates that my negative thoughts are not 100% true feels pretty manageable to me. By doing this, over time, you do start to fight against the entire thought. But it’s all about baby steps.
  • Finally, if you are truly in crisis, get to a hospital. Have a safety plan in place with your supports. Set limits. If you cross the line on those limits, it’s time to go get the next level of help. Look, no one likes hospitals. Especially not psych units. I know. I get it. But I also promise you your future self will thank you for going.

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Literally me checking into the psych unit. Taking a selfie was maybe not rational, but, honestly, I was pretty thoroughly irrational at the time. Really, though, it’s OK to need help, and sometimes we do need that “higher level” of support. There’s no shame in that! 

So, that’s my little list. The fact of the matter is self-care while heading for a mood episode of any form is a tricky proposition, and preemptive planning with your support team is the best way to manage it. But if you, like me, are living with some of the symptoms, but they are muted enough to not require hospitalization, self-care can really help you ride it out. It’s going to suck, there’s no getting around that, but having good self-care techniques and good supports can be the difference between a crappy couple of weeks and a crisis requiring hospitalization. It does require a certain awareness of mood and an understanding of what is happening, though. Which is where the friends and family come in. In the week heading into this episode, on three of my phone calls with my friend, she noticed that I sounded “in a fog”. This was a big cue to me that things were not well and that I was heading for a bad time. So, self-care kicked into overdrive.

Self -care is going to look different for everyone, of course. And I feel obligated to mention that Mixed States are often the most dangerous types of mood episodes, because being depressed but energized tends to facilitate making and carrying out a suicide plan. So, please take care of yourselves. And, not to beat a dead horse, but IT’S OK TO NEED HELP at whatever level is necessary.

If you’d like some specific techniques for getting through a particularly difficult time, check out my list: Top 5 Ways to Get Through a Bad Situation (Without Making It Worse).

What are your go-to emergency self-care techniques? Do you agree with this list? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section of this post! You can also Tweet me and find me on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

 

Mental Cleanse Challenge – Radical Acceptance

A friend of mine often jokes that the title of my autobiography and/or the epitaph on my grave stone will be two simple words: Of Course. It’s a solid suggestion. My consistent companions on this journey we call life seem to be Irony and Murphy’s Law. Contradictions construct much of my experiential learning – things just happen in my life, like, I don’t know, going from mental health worker to client. Such a jump is not an anomaly in my life, in fact, “Of Course” is a phrase I utter more often than not. I embrace the ridiculousness that is my life.

Today was one of “those days.” My goal for day 6 of this challenge was to do some yoga and practice radical acceptance. When constructing my 30 day self-care list, I could not anticipate a flu-like creature infecting my house. It’s effectively consumed us for the time being. I’ve spent the day with barely enough energy to sip some teas and watch Stargate SG-1 (don’t judge me, Jack O’Neill comforts me). My couch-ridden state prevented even the thought of yoga. My head feels like a pressure cooker and just walking from the couch to the kitchen and back is enough to make me dizzy – no elegant balancing and stretching for this girl. Ironically, though, the inability to do yoga allowed me to practice Radical Acceptance! See how the universe works sometimes?

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What is this Radical Acceptance thing? Sounds like a whole bunch of new age mumbo jumbo! (When I get cynical, I strangely channel a crotchety old man. Just go with it.) Did you go with it? Congratulations, you just accepted something.

Radical Acceptance is a concept in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. During the Partial Hospitalization Program in which I participated, we read an excerpt from the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-ZinnIn the excerpt, titled The Attitudinal Foundation of Mindfulness Practice, Kabat-Zinn defines Acceptance as “seeing things as they actually are in the present.” Radical Acceptance is a fantastic stress-reducing tool; it’s applicable in situations as small and mundane as being stuck in traffic and in major life changing events, such as the death of a loved one or receiving a diagnosis.

Acceptance prevents suffering. A facilitator at the PHP wrote on the white board one day that I’ll carry for the rest of my life: “Pain + Willfulness = Suffering ; Pain + Acceptance = Pain.” Willfulness, in this context, is a direct refusal to accept the situation as it is in the moment. Imagine how terrible my day would have been if I’d spent hours on the couch beating myself up for not doing yoga – or worse, if I’d stubbornly tried to do yoga despite having a fever and being dizzy. I’m certain that suffering would have overtaken the entire day. This illness is here, and it needs to run its course. My immune system has to beat it back. Eventually, I will feel better. The fever will leave; the sand paper throat will again be smooth; the sinus pressure will decrease; the cough will subside. Until then, all I can do is accept that I am sick and that I need to take it easy. I can drink tea to sooth my throat, and I can give my body the rest it needs.

No one wants to be in pain. No one wants to have the flu. No one wants to face their own limitations. No one wants to lose a loved one, receive a life-changing diagnosis, or deal with their crap. It’s easier to avoid or deny, in the short term, anyway; but in the long run, refusing to accept your situation is going to cause you immense suffering.

Back in November, when the severity of my symptoms increased dramatically, I refused to accept the reality of my situation. My therapist suggested a hospital stay then, and I laughed in his face. When my depression grew, I tried to ignore it. For two months, I suffered more or less silently (minus phone calls/ visits from a couple close friends, who helped as much as they could). By the time I did go to the hospital, my situation was so severe that I needed to leave my work and school. I also refused to accept that at first, which fueled more self-loathing and anger.

My point is, life is going to fling the unexpected in your face from time to time. And it’s going to get into your eyes and mouth and sting like hell and taste like shit. But it’s going to be a lot more uncomfortable if you deny that it’s there than it will if you flush it out and clean up.

So, today, I accepted that I was too sick to do yoga, and thus, I succeeded in practicing radical acceptance. 50% of my goal for the day achieved with a fever and sinus pressure? I’ll take it.

And I wrote this blog for you all – because I still do have a stubborn side. If this particular entry is a little scattered with metaphors and such, I apologize. Please just accept that I have slight fever brain right now. (See what I did there?)

How’d you practice self-care today? Do you want to get in on this challenge? I’d love to hear your go-to self-care activities and your progress in using them! As always, hit me up in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter! Much love!

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 – 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!

Self Care Service Stop: Self-Love is NOT a Bad Thing

It may come as a surprise to you, but occasionally, I have to google synonyms to words in order to make my writing a bit more interesting. Today, as I sat at my computer with my notebook at my side, I set out googling synonyms for “self-love”, in an attempt to create a catchy title for the weekly self-care segment I’m developing. Much to my surprise, the synonyms that appeared on my screen bombarded me with simultaneous guilt and uncertainty and a sort of righteous anger.  Pompous. Self-indulgent. Conceited. Self-absorbed. Egotistical. Meglomaniac. NARCISSISTIC.

I stared at the screen for a moment. Had I typed it wrong? Had I clicked on some anomalous site? Surely, these cannot be reflective of our culture’s view of self-love! So, I switched tactics. I googled “Self-Love definition”. Here’s what that search revealed:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Self-Love n. Love of self

  • Conceit
  • Regard for one’s own happiness or advantage

Dictionary.com
Self-Love n.

  • The instinct by which one’s actions are directed to the promotion of one’s own welfare or well-being, especially an excessive regard for one’s own advantage.
  • Conceit; Vanity
  • Narcissism

Vocabularly.com
Self-Love n.

  • An exceptional interest in or admiration for yourself
  • Feelings of excessive pride

Now, there were, of course, sites which offered the definition I had in mind when I initially searched for synonyms of Self-Love. Sites like Oxford English Dictionaries, which took the time to specify that Self-Love is generally viewed as desirable and not narcissistic. And there were articles about Self-Love as a positive component of Self-Care and the importance of being kind to yourself, but I can’t help but feel that that does not negate the overwhelming negative connotations of Self-Love we seem to carry in our collective cultural mind.

Either consciously or unconsciously, I believe that many of us view Self-Love as a negative. How could we not? The above are the definitions and synonyms most commonly associated with the term. In addition, antonyms of Self-Love include words like humbleness. Altruism. Humility. Unselfishness. Are these not things to which we are told to aspire? No one wants to be seen as “selfish”. But “altruistic” is a virtue, right? Whether you’ve actively looked up these definitions or not, there’s simply no way that this perception doesn’t spread through you and dig its tendrils deep into your brain.

From day one on this little planet of ours, most of us are ingrained with the idea that selfishness is a negative trait – a character defect, if you would. When you grow up with that mentality, how can you possibly love yourself? We judge our worth on the light we bring to others rather than the light we have ourselves. I think of it like a candle: if our flame is about to extinguish, we cannot focus on lighting others’ candles. Because sooner rather than later, our flame will go out and we will not have light for ourselves or to give to others.

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Personally, I have always struggled with the idea of Self-Love. In the CBT group in which I participated after discharge from the hospital, I learned a lot about “distorted thoughts” and “negative core beliefs.” One of my most pervasive negative core beliefs is, “I’m not worthy of happiness”, or, “Others are more worthy of happiness than I am.” In CBT, you get “homework,” where you walk through different cognitive exercises, often actually on paper, to challenge these distortions and negative core beliefs.

One assignment was to consider a negative belief you hold about yourself and list “evidence or experiences that suggest that the core belief is not 100% true all of the time.” You want to know what my list included? My “evidence” that I am “worthy of happiness” comprised of things like: I support others. I help people. I am good in a crisis. I put others first. I care about others. I’m empathetic. I am a good employee. Do you see a pattern emerging? Even any sense of positive self image (or self-love) I hold revolves around the traits considered antonyms to Self-Love. That’s how deeply embedded the tendrils of cultivated “unselfishness” are in my mind, my soul, to the deepest levels of my core essence, my Self.

So, how do we make the jump to Self-Love if we have internalized it as a negative term? What can we do, each day, to challenge that warped perception that our value lies only in altruistic self-sacrifice and selfless giving to and caring for others?

The answer lies, I believe, in embracing a certain level of “selfishness.” Now, I don’t being flipping a switch and being cold-blooded, dog-eat-dog, I’m-only-out-for-myself-and-fuck-everyone-else kind of selfishness. I mean a pure, reality-based selfishness that says, “I have the right to exist. I have the right to set boundaries. I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HAPPY.”

What does this look like? Anything. We are all individuals, with unique values, perceptions, wants, and needs. And we all have the right to our personal wants and needs.

In the therapy groups which I attended, I was exposed to The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, which is, truly, a fantastic resource full of coping skills and exercises to help challenge your thinking and improve your quality of life. One of the best parts of the book, in my opinion, is The Personal Bill of Rights: 

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  1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
  2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands that I can’t meet.
  3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
  4. I have the right to change my mind.
  5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
  6. I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
  7. I have the right to say “no” to anything when I feel I not ready, it is unsafe, or if it violates my values.
  8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
  9. I have the right to not be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings, or problems.
  10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
  11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
  12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.
  13. I have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m afraid.”
  14. I have the right to say “I don’t know.”
  15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behaviors.
  16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
  17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and times.
  18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
  19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
  20. I have the right to in a non-abusive environment.
  21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable with the people around me.
  22. I have the right to change and grow.
  23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
  24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  25. I have the right to be happy.

There you have it! The personal bill of rights and my view on “selfishness.” In truth, you are worth just as much as every other person on this earth and you do not need to perpetually place your needs on the back burner. I’m learning, slowly but surely, that the more I establish boundaries that protect my right to be treated with respect, my right to express myself, and my right to feel comfortable in my environment without owing anyone an explanation, the more I have to give others. Protecting my space and my self-worth has slowly but steadily been refilling my tank. Helping others is a wonderful thing, but sometimes you have to help yourself first.

When I first read Personal Bill of Rights, two really struck me: Number 15: I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behaviors; and Number 20: I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment. These kind of blew my mind at first.

What Right do you find most relevant to your life? Do any of the Rights listed rub you the wrong way? Do any of them make you sit back and say, “Wow! I never even considered that before?” I’d love to hear your thoughts via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comment section below!