Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is Still More To Come

11751427_10101046604258545_5454523273497108847_nI’m a lover of words, and I also happen to find things like grammar and punctuation rather interesting.  The addition of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.  Whether you choose to use a period or a semi-colon is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Almost eighteen years ago, when I was twenty, I chose to use a period.  I saw no reason to continue the sentence, which was my life.  I decided to end it all.

Obviously, I did not “succeed” in my suicide attempt.  I am still alive.  Still writhing and fighting and living and questioning everything around me.

For many years after my suicide attempt, I was angry and bitter that I had survived.  I thought it was unfair.  But I somehow knew I could never attempt such a thing again.  I could not inflict that amount of pain and grief on my family and friends.  However, knowing I wouldn’t commit suicide didn’t erase the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder, which meant that depression would come back.  And recede.  And come back.  I would still fight the feeling that I wanted to die.  I would still obsess about how I could make that happen.  I would still dream that some accident would befall me and make the decision for me.

In the spring of 2014, I hit an all time low for me.  I had previously thought I knew what depression was all about, but this episode was different.  It was longer.  It was deeper.  It was stronger. I craved death.  I obsessed about it.  Dreamed about it.  I could not stop the thoughts of suicide–but I was still confident that I knew I wouldn’t go through with it.

Then one night, things got worse.  I don’t remember much of that night, but thanks to my browser history and open tabs, I knew what I had been researching: the best ways to die.  Then, I looked at my planner next to my computer on my desk, and I saw that I had written out a timeline of everything I would need to do to set that plan in motion.  Some of the details I had planned for and around freaked me out.

Thankfully, I was so freaked out that I had switched from dreaming about death to planning it in detail, I called my therapist.  I packed my bag, and when I saw my psychiatrist for ECT, I flat out told him I couldn’t go home.  I showed him my planner.

I had chosen to use a semi-colon and not a period.

I would be in the hospital for a month.  I would be discharged into the care of my parents, and I would move back home with them.

My psychiatrist’s parting words to me were, “Thank you for trusting us.”

That month in the hospital didn’t cure me, but it saved me.  It allowed me to start the healing process so I could continue writing my sentence.  Kind of a powerful metaphor for a writer.

For anyone with mental illness contemplating life, for anyone with an eating disorder, for anyone with an addiction, for anyone having a crappy week: you can choose to keep going.  You may have to make that decision many times, but it is yours to make.  I now have a semi-colon on my wrist as a reminder that there is still more to come.  What comes before the semi-colon?  It’s in the past.  What’s after the semi-colon?  The future.  Your future, and you are the author.

For more about the Semicolon Project, go here.  You will find inspirational stories and resources to help you begin you new independent clause.

July 17, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, death, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Recovery. Yes. It really is possible.

According to Facebook, I have 300 friends.  Most of the time, my newsfeed keeps me up to date on the Friends who are near me physically and the ones who interact with me the most.  Which means the vast majority of my 300 Friends don’t just pop up on my screen.  And honestly, I cannot keep up to date with 300 different people, especially the ones I’ve never met or talked to aside from a couple messages on Facebook.

But a conversation on my wall yesterday made me randomly think of Someone, and so I went to her page to see how she was.  Well, Someone died from her eating disorder, and there is now a “Remembering Someone” group in addition to all the other ‘in memory’ groups out there.  I had had several private message conversations with her, but I can’t say that I knew her.  It still makes me sad.

And then my dear friend Kathleen MacDonald re-shared her story for a support group.  I have heard her speak this story and I have read it multiple times over the years, and it still makes me cry.  Kathleen had someone who knew what it’s like to lose a daughter to an eating disorder step in and help her see her worth as a human being and helped her understand her life had meaning and purpose and beauty and that there really was a way to heal.  A way out.

In 2004, my life intersected with that of Allan Benn.  His daughter had died from an eating disorder in 2003.  At the time, I didn’t believe the people who told me that I could get better–because very few people ever told me that.  Most everyone told me that people didn’t really recover from an eating disorder, that they learned to “manage it” for the rest of their life, but it would always be present somehow.

So if I was only ever going to be anorexic to some degree, why even try to recover?  What was the point?  I didn’t have anything to offer the world; I didn’t even feel I had anything to offer myself.  But Allan saw my suffering, and how it was holding me back from the person I was meant to be.  One day, he sat me down and asked, “What are you going to do now? Because you can’t keep doing this.”  I can’t remember if I had any type of answer for him or not.  But he told me that I needed to take steps to get better.  I didn’t believe him, because ‘obviously’ recovery was impossible.

But over the next year-and-a-half, I began seeing myself through his eyes.  I wasn’t sold on recovery yet, but I was willing to admit the way I was living was causing me great pain.  And as he continued to stress health and wellness, I saw that the way I was living was causing him pain.  I had no idea that my actions could affect other people to that degree.  A sobering realization, but one that led me to the conclusion that even if I didn’t want to get better, I could not let myself be another loss in his life.  It didn’t seem fair.

And so, over a period of months, I began seeking out treatment options but always fell back on the “it’s never helped before” belief until I really didn’t have a choice due to my physical health and I went back into treatment.  I still didn’t believe in me, or even really want recovery–but I cared about Allan and his wife.  “They told me recovery is possible,” I kept repeating to myself.  I had to at least try.

And then I began fighting for the sake of my nephew.  And a part of me was fighting to prove all the doubters wrong.  And then I began fighting for me.  I began to believe that recovery really was possible.  And like everything else I do, I refused to settle for anything but full recovery.

I wish there had been that one person in Someone’s life that connected with her on some deep level words can’t really describe.  I wish she had been able to see her inherent worth as a person and everything that life had to offer her and that she had to offer life.  I wish she believed that she could recover.

All too often, we are labeled revolving door patients, or ‘lifers’ who don’t stand a chance.  These messages come from family, friends, and medical professionals.  ALL of us need to be told that recovery is possible and that we deserve that recovery and that we can succeed.  We need more stories of recovery.  We need to convince people that 100% Full Recovery is possible.  And we need to keep saying that–to sufferers, to parents, to friends, to healthcare providers, and anyone else who will listen.

You. Can. Recover.  Recovery does not mean the absence of pain, but it does mean the presence of life.

November 8, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments