Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

the problem with being strong

Lately I’ve discovered there’s a problem with “staying strong” all the time: it’s impossible. And the message to “just stay strong”?: great at invoking guilt and shame in the recipient.

I’ve discovered both of these facts quite recently, thanks to my heart.  As I’m dealing with the uncertainty of everything tied up with my heart, combined with Bipolar Disorder Depression flare up, I’ve had a lot of well-meaning friends tell me that I “just” need to stay strong.  The problem being that right now, I feel anything but strong.  Most of the time, if not all the time, when someone tells me to my face to “just be strong,” I smile and nod.  Anything else would be rather inappropriate.  Here’s the problem: very few of my friends know what it is like to have a chronic illness and only one of my friends, who lives 1,000 miles away, knows what it’s like to live with a chronic, degenerative heart disease for which there is no cure or treatment.

Here’s what I learned, literally, yesterday: it’s okay not to be strong.  Yes, when you are fighting any illness, there is a degree of strength involved.  But there are moments when being strong is just not feasible.  These are the times when it’s okay to admit, “I’m having a shitty time and could really use some help.”  “I’m not sure I can keep fighting all the damn time and could use a rest.”  “I could really use a listening ear right now and I don’t expect you to solve anything or fix anything, just listen.”  It’s okay to have days when the social world seems to much to bear because it means faking happy and you just don’t have the energy.

What did I do yesterday?  I vacuumed and dusted my living room, took a nap with my cats, knit, wrote, and read.  I did a couple of errands so I’d have something to eat and drink and gas in my car, but none of those required heavy social interaction.  I took a break from the world.

Today, I plan on interacting with that very world I isolated myself from yesterday.  I know enough about managing depression that complete isolation rarely, if ever, helps the situation.  Nor does it help me deal with my heart condition.  I may have ARVD, an untreatable, progressive, and degenerative heart condition, but that does not preclude me from having a life.  It may be a different life than I had planned, but it’s still a life.  A life which I get to define.

For those of you struggling with any form of chronic illness: it is okay to not be strong 100% of the time.  It is okay to ask for help, to admit that you’re not feeling all that strong at the moment.  We do not do this on our own.  No one can bear my heart condition for me, but other people can help me bear it.

It took me a long time to ask for help for the eating disorder, to admit that I even needed help.  But letting go of that control and facade that gave everyone the idea that I was in control and “fine just fine” was the first step to my recovery.  Letting people in allowed me to heal.  I am not sure why I didn’t make that connection with my heart condition.

So go ahead, let go of the control and let someone in, as scary as that may sound.  None of us have to do this alone.

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April 9, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, health, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Letter of Hope and Encouragement

Hope is Possible

I was reading on Facebook, reading a post on a certain page, and Jamie had written a letter to a friend, reminding her that her worth lies in the internal beauty and gifts and talents and not the external–not what any scale says, not what any number says, not what the size of her clothes are.  She reminds us that a scale is a 2 inch piece of metal and springs–nothing more, nothing less.  She gave me permission to use the letter here.  As a possible trigger, there are numbers included, but at no point does Jamie reveal the highest or lowest weight or her current weight.  The numbers are metaphors and not points of comparison.  I found this letter full of hope and encouragement, reminding us all that we are more than our shapes, our sizes, our numbers.  The real beauty of each of us lies within and no one can take that away from us:

Dear Beautiful Girl,
You are more than a reflection in the mirror. More than the number on a scale. More than the size of your jeans. You are YOU. In all the world there is not another like you. Why do we as women have such a hard time accepting ourselves for who we are, where we are? When did you become a body instead of a being? My answer is probably different than yours yet it leads us both to the same place of discontentment. We rejoice over the dimples in a babies thighs or the little rolls on a toddlers tummy, yet we can stand in front of a mirror ( which by the way, is no more than a piece of glass ) and berate ourselves for hours at a time for these very same characteristics. Why? For some it’s a learned behavior I suppose. We’ve grown up in a society that teaches us from early on that beauty is skin deep. That who we are and what we can be IS determined by the reflection, by the number, by the size. For some it goes deeper. How we view our bodies has developed as a result of some kind of trauma. Abuse in any form can destroy how we view ourselves. Abuse by others and also abuse we inflict on our own bodies. On the souls living within our skin. My body isn’t perfect. It wasn’t when it was 20 lbs lighter nor was it when it was 20 lbs heavier. I am short, by the worlds standards I will never qualify as a ‘supermodel’. But at what point will I allow myself to say, ‘screw the worlds standards’, and decide that who I am is good enough. When will I accept that my God given gifts and abilities do NOT change regardless of whether The Gap tells me I’m a size 2 or a size 20. So many days I begin by standing on this little white square that I have given complete power to. This box can in a matter of 5 seconds determine the mood I start my day in. Whether I eat or don’t eat can be decided by this box. Whether I dress to be noticed or hide my body…also determined by it. If you take this contraption apart, you will find one tiny metal spring. I’ve given the control of my life, of my emotions, over to a 2″ piece of metal. Kinda eye opening to look at it that way. If I got up every morning and looked at the spring instead of what it’s housed in, would it have as much power? I don’t think so. Honestly, I think it would feel pretty silly. So why do I give my body, my ‘house’ more power than the soul within it? My body is visible. Your body is visible. And yet everything that controls the outside is located INSIDE. So why do we put the constant focus on what’s displayed on the outside? I’ve looked a complete mess lately. Hair every which way, baggy clothes, no makeup… In some ways I believe that my outside is finally lining up with the ‘spring’ inside of me. I’m allowing myself to just BE. No expectations, no pretenses. It’s just me. Take me or leave me. Because if my appearance is why you love me, I’d rather you didn’t bother. I’d rather be loved for my unloveliness than idolized for someone I’m not. You, my friend, my sister are 100% flawed perfection! If you were perfect, people would be intimidated by you. You are beautiful, absolutely stunning in who you are. Because the spring inside you is lovely, YOU are lovely. You radiate life and joy and love. Life, joy & love are the best examples of beauty that I can think of. So girlfriend, OWN who you are! Allow yourself to look in the mirror and tell the girl within you how absolutely gorgeous she is. I know she needs to hear it right now. Build her up instead of tearing her down. And praise the God who handcrafted her for what an amazing and awe inspiring work of beauty He created.
You are beautiful and oh so loved…
XOXOXO

 

Remember that that piece of metal is just that . . . a piece of metal.  YOU are so much more, with gifts to offer the world and love to share with those you come in contact with.  The beauty of you is YOU and will remain YOU regardless of your size or any number of measurement.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, Eating Disorders, identity | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ana/mia/rexia names

the aunt part of me

How do I define myself?  I’m a writer; I was a student (the was part is new so I still have a tendency to define myself that way); a reader; a knitter and crocheter and I like to make jewelry; I like to paint, even though it’s nothing special; I still play piano from time to time; I love to dance; and I absolutely LOVE being an aunt.

I have bipolar disorder.  Two very special things about this previous sentence.  It does not say “I am bipolar” nor does it say “My name is bipolar.”

I used to have an eating disorder.  HAVE. I never identified myself as anorexia.  But this seems to be the trend lately among a certain subset of people with eating disorders.

On eating disorder community pages on facebook, I see countless people who have names with things like “ana,” “mia,” “ED,” and “rexia” included, and I’m seen names set up to rhyme with “rexia” and “mia.”  In their names.  Linguistically, they are calling themselves by their eating disorder.  I don’t see cancer patients with “cancer” in their names.  I don’t have “heartsick” in my name to identify me by my heart disease.

It’s one thing to admit to having an eating disorder.  That’s an extremely crucial part of recovery.  If you don’t admit you have one, you can’t get over it.

But it’s another thing entirely to call yourself by that disorder, to identify yourself by that disorder.  You are taking the you out of the equation at that point.  You are only your eating disorder.

There are several problems with this, and I’ll mention only the ones that pop out the most or concern me the most.

One is that by identifying yourself by the eating disorder, you can’t let go of it.  How can you get better from the eating disorder when you are the eating disorder?  One of the problems many of us face while recovering is finding things to take the place of all the time the eating disorder stole from us.  By calling yourself by the eating disorder itself, you make finding new, healthy activities that much more difficult, if not impossible.  In order to recovery, you need to let go and you can’t do that if you call yourself “Anamia.”  (I’ve seen that precise name multiple times.)

The second thing is that these names are extremely triggering to people who are in the process of letting go.  The names serves as a reminder of what they are trying to separate themselves from, and this makes it that much more difficult to actually let go. These names give the impression that the individuals using them are pro-eating disorder.

And, as we all know, the eating disorder community can be rather competitive.  These names only serve to increase that competitive spirit.  “If I don’t have “ana” in my name, then I’m not as sick as the other person” is a sentence I have received in a private message.  We need to encourage others to pick up new, healthy behaviors; we should not be encouraging them to stay stuck and keep holding onto their eating disorders, which is exactly what these names do.

So I encourage each and every one of you who use these names to reconsider them and change them.  If not for you, do it for the people who come in contact with your name.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

IN/OUT/IN/OUT…

serenity bracelet I made as a reminder

So I’ve been exploring mindfulness as of late, both because of the therapist I work with and because of a professor I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  I always thought mindfulness and meditation were these complicated things that took ages to perfect and I just didn’t feel as if I had the patience to undertake such a difficult, involved task such as learning to calm my mind.  I have no idea where I got these ideas.  Perhaps it was simply my stubbornness making these lies up so I’d have an excuse not to try something new and different.

For lies they are.  Through reading the book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, I am learning that mindfulness is anything but complicated and I should throw the idea of “perfection” out the window.  Yup, that’s right: you don’t have to be perfect to benefit from mindfulness.  For those of us used to trying to be perfect in everything we do, this can be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is also very freeing and it’s like a huge sigh of relief: “Finally, I can just be.”

And being is all I have to, well, be.  I don’t have to sit in some pre-ordained pose.  I don’t have to listen to special music.  I don’t have to chant special words or read a special text.  I just have to be. No more.  No less.  Do you know how wonderful that alone feels?

The book is a collection of ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, hence the title.  One of the very first practices is called Conscious Breathing.  How often do you pay attention to your breath?  Sure, we notice our breath when we get panicky and start to hyperventilate, but what about right now?  What about when you’re walking in the grocery store?  What about when you’re playing with your cat?

Here’s the basic gist of conscious breathing: As you inhale, think “In.”  As you exhale, think “Out.”

Yup.  That’s it.  When I first read this, I laughed.  (I told you I’m a bit stubborn and this just seemed too simple and I thought, “Why bother wasting my time trying it.”)  Then I tried it.  Whenever my mind wandered, I gently reminded myself to go back to the “In/Out” thoughts.  No reprimands or scoldings, just a gentle redirection.  I paid attention to the rising and falling of my ribcage, the tightening of my bra strap on the inhale, the sensation of air moving through my nostrils.  And I discovered that after just a few minutes, I was focused and calm and relaxed.  And all I did was label my breaths.  Nothing fancy.  No special equipment.  I was sitting on my sofa in my regular clothes and I didn’t even bother turning off my music.

Since then, I have practiced Conscious Breathing as I’m walking somewhere, as I’m lying in my bed with thoughts going a zillion miles a minute before I’m trying to fall asleep, while I’m knitting, and while I’m having my morning cup of caffeinated coffee and my bedtime cup of decaffeinated coffee.  Yes, my mind wanders.  But guess what?  I’m human and it’s going to wander.  But as I said earlier, I don’t yell at myself or scold myself or feel bad when my mind wanders; I simple remind myself to go back to In and Out.

For those of you with anxiety or panic disorders or for those of you who worry a lot or for those of you who think about a million things at once and want to clear your mind, I challenge you to try this.  And I challenge you to be gentle with yourself and throw perfection out the window and allow yourself to wander.  And then allow yourself to return to your breath.  Gently.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | coping, mindfulness, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mantra for Living

*Hope*Faith*Heal*Pray*

(Just a random picture)

Both in a comment here and through private emails, I was asked to go into more detail about the mantra for living I mentioned in my previous post, so I thought I’d just make an entry out of it.

For those of you struggling with Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder, you know that life sometimes seems . . . well, not worth the effort.  I am currently going through a depressive episode (I have Bipolar Disorder, Type 1) and the meds and the ECT are working, but it’s taking time, and I’ve never been all that patient of a person and there have been lots of moments when life just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.

Two weeks ago, my therapist had me write a “mantra for living.”  It took me a week to even start it because I really didn’t have much faith in it.  But here are some more details about what goes into the mantra for living, for once I wrote it, I actually have found it extremely helpful and I read through it multiple times a day.

I started off by acknowledging that life is difficult and rather terrifying right now and then I listed the reasons that make this true.  You may choose words other than “difficult” and “terrifying” if they don’t fit for you:  exhausting, saddening, pointless, etc.  And everyone’s reasons will be different.  For example, one of the reasons I have is my heart and the specifics of my cardiac diagnosis.  Seeing as how that diagnosis is extremely rare, I don’t expect other people to have that listed.

Then I wrote the sentence, “But I need to dwell on the things that make life worth living.”  I happen to work with a DBT therapist, and one of the main goals of DBT is to create a life worth living.  Again, my reasons will not be the same as yours.  My family is one of my reasons that make life worth living, but I know that “family” may make life difficult for some people.  Do not list something and then say, “Oh, that’s not big enough of a reason.”  My cats are on my list.  I can’t imagine my life without them.  And I seriously do wonder, “Who’d feed my cats if something happened to me?”  So my cats are on my list.  So is my writing.  If playing the piano gives you a reason for living, list it.

And then I closed my mantra for living with the sentence, “I have a worthwhile life and I life I can be proud of.”

I keep mine in my journal because I always have my journal with me.  But if you want to write it on looseleaf paper and fold it up and put it in your pocket, that’s fine.  Whatever works for you.

I’m glad my stubbornness finally subsided and I followed my therapist’s instructions.  (Shhhh—don’t tell him I said that! :/ )   Seriously, if you find yourself doubting your existence or the meaning of your existence, consider writing out a mantra for living.  Even put down things that you hope will one day be in your life as reasons for living.  It’ll give you something to look forward to.

Hope can be a powerful thing.  I’m starting to get some of mine back.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self Love Letter Challenge (from ViR)

my current journal

I’ve kept a journal since I was five, and I have every single one (except one, which I have no idea where it is) in a giant rubbermaid container.  I think my current journal is Number 28 in the chronological sequence.  I also have several topical journals that were kept for creative writing classes or english classes.  Those are in a separate box.  I’m almost done with my current journal, and I’m at that point where I’m tempted to just leave the last few pages blank so I can start a fresh one and start decorating that one.

I doubt I am alone in the content of my journals.  Very very rarely do I have an entry celebrating something I did or, heaven forbid, simply celebrating my existence.  Nope.  My journals are filled with bitching and moaning and questioning life and trying to solve existential dilemmas.

The purple card lying on top of my journal is my “Mantra for Living” that my therapist had me write.  It acknowledges the terrifying aspects of life and then goes on to remind myself that I must dwell on the things that make life worth living and lists those things.  At the bottom of the card is the line *I have a worthwhile life and a life I can be proud of.*

And then on Facebook, I came across a Voice in Recovery’s suggestion/plan: dedicating the month of April to stopping self-hate. And she gives us a very concrete exercise, which I linked to on my Facebook page: Writing a Self Love Letter.  That’s right–a letter proclaiming self-love.  What better way to start loving yourself?  Sure, you might tell me that there is nothing about you to love.  My response: MAKE SOMETHING UP.  A) There IS something there to love.  B) If you can’t see it, write something down that you want to love about yourself.  C) Ask your friends for suggestions.  D) Read that letter every single day.  Twice a day.  Read it until you believe what you wrote.  The more you read it, the more you will believe it.

When I wrote my “Mantra for Living” I didn’t believe all the reasons I wrote down that made life worth living.  In fact, I laughed at some of them.  But reading that card every day, whenever I open my journal, those reasons are starting to sink in.  I’m starting to believe them.  They’re becoming part of me, part of my psyche.

The same thing can happen with the self-love letter.  You may feel like all you’ve got is self-hate, but how are you going to learn self-love unless  you practice it?  Unless you try letting a glimmer of that love in?  So I triple-dog-dare you to write this self-love letter.  ViR is asking for people to share their letters.  But if that scares you, if that prevents you from writing certain things down, don’t worry about the sharing part–just write the letter as if no one else in the world will ever read it.  Just you.  You could write “I’m good at standing on one foot on my toes” if you want.  No one ever has to know.  But if it’s something you’re proud of, if it’s something you love, write it down. Write it down and keep it in a place where you will read it every single day.

I quadruple-dog-dare you.

And yes, for those who are wondering, I am taking my own dare.  I’ve already started my letter.  No, it’s not easy.  But let me tell you this:  it’s a hell of a lot easier than carrying around a load of self-hate.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, depression, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments