No Vacancy

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

When we are hurt by another person we can choose how to respond to it.  Do we deal with it immediately and let it go, or do we nurse a grudge and let it fester?   Holding on to the hurt is like letting the perpetrators live rent-free in your head.

Do you think of things to say after the fact that really would be a zinger and it haunts you?  You know you really could have hurt back.  It feels like insult to injury.  But the person who damaged you may not even be aware that they did more that stub your emotional toe

As a survivor of drastic offenses, I am not a victim because I have chosen to let go of it.  I had an ulcer at age 14 because I couldn’t get past what had happened in my childhood and teen years.  The thing is, my inner turmoil wasn’t hurting the offenders.  In fact, had they known how much I was hurting, might they have received a bit of pleasure at the notion?

I understand that it is over and my peace of mind is worth saying that I am done letting it roost in my head and heart.  My experience with it is that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with its focus on current coping mechanisms, has been effective in purging the torment.  There is nothing to be gained by reliving it over and over.  Picking at scabs and watching you bleed over and over again is destructive and not necessary.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned that if I kept that up I was subject to flashbacks.  I lived the episodes over and over again.  They weren’t pleasant the first time around and going back was unpredictable and horrible.   I’m not saying that I am no longer flash-back free, but without holding the wrongs in my heart I have a great deal of control over how I handle them.

I had to learn how to forgive.  Not for their sakes, but for mine.  I never talked to the offenders personally.  I didn’t need to roll that dice.  I didn’t know how they would respond.  But I forgave them unilaterally.  I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of punishing me.   During the abuse they had more power than I did.  Now I have power of my own.

Life In the White Spaces

John Lennon sang that “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”  Life in this case is something that we barely recognize because we are so invested in having everything run the way we think it should.   We hang on white-knuckled, so afraid that something may go awry; that we miss what is really important about life.

White spaces are the occurrences and adventures that happen between the planned activities and compulsory duties.  We work so hard to have free time, getting all our chores done.  But then, we rush to fill the gaps, frenetically filling in the spaces that could otherwise be used in contemplation, re-assessment, re-booting.

The world of artists and graphic designers refer to white spaces as the portion of a page left unmarked; the space between images.   White on a page is not wasted space.    They are necessary for us to see the intended subject matter.  They outline and give depth.

Sometimes there isn’t much room for ‘spaces in between’ because there is so much information that has to be transmitted, resulting in a busy sensory overload that is hard to manage.   If there aren’t enough places for your eyes to rest, you miss out on what you are supposed to be learning that day.  Mismanaging your ‘time between’ can make your day feel incomplete.

Filling your time with indiscriminate activities can actually be detrimental to your emotional and physical health.  Our spirits cry out for sincere input and positive experiences.  If you are fleeing from yourself, you are missing all the scenery that composes the time between.  Living in the white spaces frees you to be so full of life that you can overcome the ‘gray’ areas of despair, anxiety, and depression.

On being too much

Ever been so excited about something that you just can’t get it out of your head? Mix that with a manic state, and all sorts of behaviors and effects seem to spiral out of control. The problem with this, in my experience, is that I don’t always recognize my behavior. It takes someone else close to the situation to ‘sit me down,’ and help me become aware of my actions.

As a person with bipolar I recognize that I may not always have the best self-insight, and not even realize that I don’t. I am blessed to be one of those people who, when manic or hypo-manic, the ideas flow and I am a prolific writer. I just don’t seem to be able to recognize when it is time to put down the pen, or time to go to bed.  I don’t recognize when I have overwhelmed people with my ideas and thoughts.

I keep inundating friends with requests to share essays and what I perceive to be ‘profound observations.’ I am terribly embarrassed when a friend holds a mirror to my face to help me see that perhaps I am “being too much.”  However, after all is said and done, I am so grateful that that person was brave and truly loved me.

I would like to thank persistent, compassionate, and observant supporters who love me anyway, regardless of what comes out of my mouth or pen. It doesn’t seem to stop me when the cycle repeats itself, but at least I have had time in between to recognize that I should trust what my supporter has to say.

So…thank you.

 

 

I’ll Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”  Thoreau.

Sometimes “Later” is my favorite word.  It is the only thing that keeps me going.  Knowing that ‘later’ does come, but hopefully at a time when you can cope with that which you put off.

People have the agency to change the course of their lives by taking an active role in the requirements of the day.  How do you know what those requirements are?

I have found that if I can plan in advance what my requirements are, in a calm moment of clarity rather than in the heat of the moment, I am far more likely to accomplish my goals of the day and era.

Have an understanding that you control your destiny.  Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.  You spin your wheels if you think you can control all factors that play a part in the drama of life.  But what you can control is how you face it.

Developing the capacity to cope involves a desire to face things head on.

  •  My best method to fight the urge to put life off is to make my plans and lists the night before.  That way when I am faced with a difficult day that would otherwise paralyze me or keep me down, I have a clear cut plan that I wouldn’t have been able to visualize if I was having to do it from scratch in an environment that would otherwise defeat me before I even start.
  • Do the most onerous tasks first thing in the morning.  Getting them done opens up your whole day.  You don’t spend your time in apprehension and dread, which would otherwise color all that you do get done and increase the chance you would otherwise procrastinate it.
  • The time is going to pass anyway – why do ‘hard time?’  You can’t get to the end without the journey.  It can be as instructive as the end itself.
  • “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – Real Life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way.  So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.  Happiness is a journey, not a destination!”  Souza
  • Choose to start from where you are.  Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and carry on.
  • You can’t help but be aware that there is something you ‘should’ be doing, or opportunities to experience and live.  Will you pursue it with all your hear, piece by piece, or will you slack off?  There is no such thing as staying in status quo.  You are either going  forward, or sliding backward.  “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.  Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.”  Anais Nin
  • Once you sideline yourself, there is a good chance that when you do come back to it, the energy has changed, you will never be able to enter the river of life in the same place as that which you passed by.
  • The Hindu mystic Ramakrishna wrote that “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.”

Emotion as Second Language

During my sophomore year as a university student, I had the opportunity to teach ESL, English as a Second Language.  My job was as a ‘conversation’ tutor.  The students had learned the fundamentals of English as they went through school in their native countries, but still  needed conversation classes to be able to apply the components in actual speech.  We listened to “In Your Wildest Dreams” (1986 Moody Blues,) and watched the movie “Field of Dreams” (1989 directed by Phil Alden Robinson) over and over, ad nauseum, until the students were able to fill in the blanks in the sentences  with lyrics and dialog.

That my students were all Asian did not mean they spoke the same language, or even the same dialect.  As human beings we share emotional languages amongst ourselves, but each person has his/her own dialect that must be learned and understood.

While at BYU I worked nights at a major hotel.  One evening I was describing features available to an incoming guest,  including hors d’ oeuvres in the bar.  I had never made the connection between the spelling of these bite size appetizers and the pronunciation.  When I tried wow this guest with this information,  I  pronounced hors d’oeuvres phonetically, including the ‘H.’  I knew what the spoken word meant and used the correct pronunciation all the time.  But whenever I read it in a book, I thought it was pronounced ‘horsdevors’  I was mortified that I had never made the connection between how it is spelled and its use in conversation.

Like my faux pas with hors d’ oeuvres, there can be a gulf between what is understood intellectually, and what is actually experienced.

Emotion as a Second Language requires practice and sometimes repetition when you just don’t get it.  Often we need a conversation tutor’s support to bridge the gap between personal understanding and our interactions with our loved ones and supporters.  We know how we should be acting and feeling, the technical aspects of interrelationships, but it takes practice with them before we can make them our own

  • When some emotions are  taken at face value they can be treacherous. With Emotion as a Second Language, you can turn your liability into a strength.  Learn how to translate raw emotions into appropriate and manageable chunks.  By taking what is overwhelming and breaking it into its component parts, (like diagramming a sentence), it becomes clear that was seems insurmountable is in fact attainable and doable.
  • Sit down with someone you trust and check your premises.  Is your thought process appropriate to the situation?  You need to break down your emotions      into recognizable parts.  This enables you to teach another person your language, your personal dialect, in the broader spectrum.  Just because we all have emotions and can apply labels, your dialect still may need translation, even to yourself, let alone your support network.
  • What you think you may be saying and what the other person hears may be completely at odds with each other.  Like playing telegraph as a young child, the message is passed along person to person until at the end the message comes out garbled with the interpretations of those passing it along.  They don’t mean to make it up, but somewhere in the process of telling and hearing the message breaks down.
  • Had I just had someone help me bridge the gap between what was on the written page and its verbal interpretation, I could have been saved from embarrassment.  But I didn’t have the insight to know I needed help pronouncing it.  I didn’t know I had a problem with it.  The people around me were not mind-readers and so had no idea that I would have a deficiency.  No doubt they would have corrected me had they known.
  • When we don’t have the self-insight to get help when we need it, our supporters can hold up a mirror so we can understand and correct our deficiencies.  Several years ago my husband sat me down and told me that I could get mean when I was manic.   I had no idea that the things I was saying were coming off as hurtful.  I knew I got irritable when the mania was crashing, but no one had ever told me that my sarcasm increased and my patience decreased.  I was so grateful that he had the courage to put a mirror up to me.  My job was to listen and act on it.  I had to learn a new dialect when dealing with my family.

Eviction Notice

“I once had a garden
Filled with flowers
That grew only on dark
Thoughts

But they need constant
Attention

And one day I decided I had better things
To do.”
–  Brian Andreas

 

Winston Churchill once said that, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.” When we stay in our dark thoughts about past and present evils or ways you have been maligned, you end up in Hell. 

This can be the Hell of stalled progression.   You are damned – nothing going in or out.  The first steps to get through Hell, is to make sure you are not building your house on a sandy flood-plain.  Get your feet under you with support from those that can see where you are coming from and where your goals are. 

“Life is a process of becoming,
A combination of
States we have to go through.

Where people fail
Is that they wish to elect a
State and remain in it.”
   Anais Nin

 Evicting someone who has been living rent-free in your head is a fundamental principle to gaining your emotional stability.  Your thoughts of revenge, bitterness, impotence, and all those zingers you would have shot back to comments had you only thought of them during the encounter.   

To evict the squatters than have been living rent-free is to come to the understanding that the perpetrator is not your problem.  The worse thing that could ever wish on them is that they have to live with themselves.  It does not a bit of good to holler and shout about all the ways life has been unjust.  If you keep the thought of revenge or making someone ‘pay,’ you are re-living the experience over and over again in your mind.  And there isn’t anywhere you can run when it is in your own head. 

 

Freaky Friday

Feeling alone and isolated, a 16 year old girl came up with an idea that would change the dynamics between those with mental illnesses and their supporters.  At the time she disclosed her story to me, she did not have a great deal of self-insight or education.  She believed  many myths rather than facts regarding her mental illness.  A side effect was  that  she didn’t really know what was okay to believe, how to be true to herself, and that others felt the same way she did. She had never told anyone about this idea because she was ashamed of it, thinking it was disloyal or wrong to feel the way she did.  This is her heart-felt cry to be understood.

Her elegant solution to feelings of isolation, misunderstanding, and stigma would be to exchange brains and experiences with your supporter for just one day.   The upside of this exercise would be to open up whole new vistas on each other’s perception of the world.  Conversely, it may very well be the hardest emotional work you would ever do .  Would you do it?

Imagine the insight this would foster.  Supporters would understand what it means to have life impacted so devastatingly or consistently, or why things are the way they are.  In the meantime, you would finally be able to understand what it means to be ‘normal’, symptom free, and without the feeling of always being on the outside. You would gain insight into your supporters needs as well.  This mutual experience would enable you and your supporter to ‘get each other’.

Realistically, the best tool we have is communication.  We should not hope against hope one or both of you is a mind-reader.  We don’t have to exchange brains to work to understand each other.  Speaking about expectations, setting boundaries, and preparing action plans in calm  times that can be implemented in times if trial ultimately contribute to stability.

The goal in life should not be to just passively endure it, but to grow as well.  The time will pass anyway, make something of it.

I’m A Big Kid Now

It is impossible to escape life unscathed.  I know we all live and relate to painful memories in our own way.  However, I don’t have much patience with feeding frenzies about the past. We all had one. It would seem that many of us are still waiting for it to be over…Unfortunately, horrible personal experiences are being gratuitously splashed all over the media in the name of “openness.” I am waiting to see the other shoe drop.

 It took me many years to break out from a life bordered on all sides by the bad experiences of my youth.  I felt helpless to overcome it until I began to understand the distorted thinking about myself, my actions, and life in general.

 

I was amazed when I finally opened my eyes.  Good Morning Sunshine, life really is good.  It is happening.  I realized I’ve just been living, not paying attention to life really. Last I checked (in 1995,) I was tucking away my Bachelors of Science in Psychology degree, shelving my graduate school plans, and convincing myself that I could find fulfillment making a home and getting the kids to school age before I would go for a Ph.D.

 

Epiphany:  I am the grown up now. No-one is going to give me my turn. There aren’t any hall monitors. We are the grown-ups.  I had to develop (over time) an attitude of fierce optimism.  I realized that I was really cool.  I have experienced what it means to go through Hell and I came out the other end a survivor.   I celebrated that I had chosen a path way back when that allowed for a full life.  I have been warped by some crazy – awesome experiences, and participated in wonderful crusader opportunities that have made actual real differences in the world.

 

What I find most compelling is my desire to reach out in spite of, or because of, all my experiences. I feel qualified to say that the men and women that I know are much more than their stories and histories. That the media perpetuates the myth that it is ok to stay caught up your history or demons is one of the great social ills of our time.

 

A&E’s Biography says, “Every Life Has a Story.”  Yes it does.  And for some people it is the end-all be-all of his or her existence. Understand that your experience and story is valid.  It is unique just because there is no one like you.  No one can crawl inside your subjective experiences of tragedy and beauty. We are the main character in our histories, and we have the need to be known.   We begin foaming at the mouth when we stay too long at the party and get sucked in as a recreational victim.

 

I know true love, pain, ultimate loss, sacrifice, anger, security, bliss, and devotion.  Being present everyday with my family and me is the toughest thing I do. It is also the best and most refining job I’ve ever have.

 

Life is short and we are the grown-ups now.  We have so much information on how to heal.  We have the power to actually change our own environment.  We can map out our own healing strategies prior to times of crisis.  Be irreverent (one of my favorite words,) but know when to be reverent. Love your lover and let him/her love you back.

 

We are the big kids now.  No one is going to hand us the power – or take it away –  unless we let them. We won’t be sent to our beds without dinner (we do that for ourselves.) We get to give ourselves permission as individuals and as society to live emotionally and release the breath that we have been holding.

 

Oops. This sounded way like a self-help book. I hate self-help books.

Walking in the Light of Support

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I spent 3 hours trying to get my mind to slow down. Frustrated, I finally got up at 2:30a.m. The long shower I was able to take was glorious. There was no fear of running out of hot water before the next person was to shower. When I do this at ungodly hours of the morning I am not allowed to blow-dry my hair – it would seem that I wake people up – go figure. So with wet hair on a cold morning, I went downstairs to write.

As I descended the stairs in pitch dark I felt safe because I was holding onto the walls for spatial reference. I become more comfortable and confidence each time I have to walk in the dark.  Last night when I had to let go and travel across the room, I was amazed that Iinstinctively knew where the obstacles were and was able get from point A to point B without banging up my shins.

This was a great victory because it is so rare for me. I have broken one toe or another at least 15 times over the years, primarily by kicking stationary things that suddenly jump out in front of me. (Most recently I tried to move our sleigh bed with my toe.)

I am settling into life in a new house and community. Navigating my personal spaces is a top priority.   I am becoming less anxious and feel safer here with each positive experience.   I have fewer bumps and bruises each time I trust and believe instead of my habit of second guessing myself.   I am improving my sight.

I thought about all the times I have walked in emotional darkness. On more occasions than I care to remember I have stubbed my emotional toe and banged mental shins against the unyielding obstacles of life. There have also been times when I had figured out the lay of the land and have been able to navigate the darkness on my own.

Life is infinitely easier when I don’t have to cross the rooms of doubt and fear by myself. My support system acts as the walls that I can hang onto as I traverse a space that scares me. I am not alone as I grow more and more confident of my route. Though inevitably I have to let go of the walls, my supporters know where the light switches are.