Sharing the lessons along the way…

Posts tagged ‘depression’

Tawny’s Gratitude Tree

Tawny's gratitude tree

A few days ago, I got this idea in my head that I wanted to make a Gratitude Tree.  I haven’t quite figured out the particulars, but I spent a great deal of time thinking of things and people I am grateful for that would go on my tree.

I imagine myself in my mind’s eye using a black Sharpie marker to write down what it is on the back of a colorful looking ornament.  I only really see the back of the one-dimensional ornament—where I am writing.

The idea has actually spiraled so out of control in my head, that all I can think about are lists of things and people for which I am grateful.  As I go through my day, I am imagining writing with my Sharpie the people in front of me, and hanging it on the tree.

I think I am going to need a mighty big tree.

I got the idea from a Christmas tree, of course, but the ornaments would signify the something’s or someone’s.  I imagine it to be one of the mightiest of pines in the forest.

The more I have thought about it, the bigger the tree has grown in my mind’s eye.  After day three, the top of the branches are reaching the clouds in the sky.  I am on a tall ladder hanging the ornaments.

Since having my idea, I have noticed a shift in my perception of my world.  It seems that the blue filter has been lifted.  I am too busy going through my days picking out ornaments for my tree.

I knew I was grateful before this unintentional exercise in mindfulness.  I knew that I had many blessings to count.  I didn’t know that it would be a challenge to count them because they are constantly being added into my world.

Because of the drastic shift in such a short period, I am going to continue to play around with this idea.  Perhaps I will really create a Gratitude Tree, or maybe I will suggest it to others to simply imagine.

I’m Seeing Blue

I see Blue

It seems I have a bit of the blues. Not the holiday blues exactly, even though it is the holidays.

Admitting that might not seem like big deal to you, but for me apparently it is. I’m sure I’m fine, and that everything else is fine, but at the moment, I find that hard to believe.  I still joke and laugh and smile, but it is all filtered through blue.

There’s nothing really happening that will not work itself out in time, and I am exerting a lot of energy in attempting to convince myself of just that. It’s kind of working. Well, much of the time it’s working, anyway.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I made a menu topic for depression. I tend to go through bouts of it. I’m only eager to admit it when I’m not experiencing it.

Last week, I shared with you an e-mail that I sent to myself. I was, and am, trying not to panic about the fast approaching end of my health coverage. Since then, I’ve made a regular habit of e-mailing myself thoughts to counter the thoughts swirling around in my mind.

If you have never seen yourself e-mails or text messages to help keep perspective, I highly recommend it as a coping strategy.

Not admitting that I have had the blues in recent weeks, has given me sort of a writer’s block. Since I didn’t want to share that, and that is what has been going on, I didn’t have anything to say.

I decided to break that pattern of denial today. I did say that I was sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly in this process of dealing with a chronic, progressive illness.

Sunday Sum Up #19

Catch Up #18

This was a week of intermittent inspiration mixed with bouts of blahs.  Later in the week, I sat in front of the computer screen with no words.

Getting overly tired and spending too much time in my head combined for the blahs, so to counter that, I worked hard at shifting my focus to being grateful instead.

I was pretty successful making the shift to gratitude for much of my days, but often found myself unable to focus on any one thing.  I was getting too far ahead of myself in my mind and totally missing taking care of what was in front of me.

There is no real cause for panic despite the many things I feel are out of my control.  Things could be (and have been) far worse.  To update you, my wrist continues to slowly improve.  My illness symptoms continue to be more manageable and I have ventured out a little more.

I have figured out a way to get around with someone, that doesn’t require a walker or cane or wheelchair.  I am researching the neuroscience behind dance (particularly the Argentine Tango) being therapeutic for movement disorders (and various other disorders), which is quite fun for me.

I have so many things and people in my life for which to be grateful, and I want to spend the week ahead focusing more on those.  My hope is to shift the percentage of brain space and energy from the rest of the whirling, nearly spiraling thoughts, to the many blessings.

Can you see your blessings among the rest of the day-to-day stuff?

Reflections of a “Fighter”

As I re-wrote the last nine and a half years of my life’s story, I was able to see patterns of behavior and various themes emerge more clearly.  Now that I have a break from working on the book, I want to share some of my observations and reflections with you.

Even though the manuscript has been out of my immediate view since last Thursday, I am still having some amazing revelations as I think about my story and all that it entails.  This morning, I realized just how clearly my own perception of my life as a struggle played a role in my difficulty surrendering to and letting go of things along the way.

I perceived my life as a struggle from the time I was able to understand what the word meant.  I characterized myself as a fighter and I was first fighting through the struggles of living with the unpredictability and chaos that often accompanies having a parent who is an alcoholic. 

I fought my way through that and then fought my way into recovery from an eating disorder, then depression, then…  I fought fear, I fought symptoms, I fought change, I fought for clients…

I realized this morning that as soon as I surrendered to and let go of my resistance of what was, my life started to get better.  I had tried various versions of this surrendering at earlier points in my life, but didn’t quite get the idea that it applies to everything. 

It was clear in my manuscript that I surrendered to what I needed to as I was in the process of losing my ability to function independently, losing my ability to walk, losing my ability to keep the roof over my head and stay with my dogs.  I only surrendered when I had to surrender though—it was forced on me.

When I stopped fighting the symptoms of my illness when they were so limiting back around the time I spent at the nursing and rehabilitation facility, I started trying to figure out how to work within the limitations.  I understood that was my only option left.  Taking the cooperative approach got me out of the nursing home and back with my dogs in 2005.  I was able to live independently as a result.  When I fought my symptoms, the symptoms and limitations won and were often worse as a result.

Boxing gloves

Boxing gloves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It takes a lot of energy to fight things, no matter what they are.  It takes significantly less energy, and directs the energy in a different and more positive direction, to work cooperatively with that thing instead.   I understood that about my symptoms, and as I have shared with you in the blog, now I have realized it is best to do that with fear and with pain as well in recent years.  Surrendering to and/or letting go of the resistance doesn’t mean giving up, but I think I might have had the idea that it was the same thing. 

I was a fighter and fighters fight things, they don’t let go of things or surrender to the “is-ness” of things and figure out how to work with that “is-ness.” 

Perhaps you all already understand these ideas, and perhaps I already understood them, too.  It really wasn’t until this morning that I felt that understanding to the core of my being.  I have talked a lot about surrendering and consciously surrendering in my blog posts.  It kept coming up as something I needed to take a look at, so I kept looking. 

Now I know when I feel like getting out my boxing gloves to fight something, that instead I need to take a breath, a step back, and look at the resistance first.  I could be resisting something so much that I miss the opening to solve a problem more creatively. 

If I had fought the pain, as I have shared, I wouldn’t have a book written.  If I had continued to fight the fear, I would have been frozen throughout the pump drama.  It is exhausting to fight and according to my book, it didn’t serve me well at any point really.  It held me back from moving forward and I have it in writing.

Are you a master resister like me?  What are you fighting?  Are you tired yet?

Fear Act II

How does fear manifest itself in your life?  How do you deal with it once you recognize it? 

In Fear Act I, I shared a scenario to illustrate the sneaky nature of fear as it related to my attachment to my first baclofen pump.

I hadn’t expected the piece to mirror any relationship where fear creeps in, but was pleasantly surprised by the development because it does work the same way with everything.

We give others our personal power often in relationships.  Much the same way I gave my personal power to my first pump.  This is also what happens in depression, addictive behavior and with those who go from relationship to relationship.

Why do we do give away our power?  We do it for any number of reasons—insecurity, low self-worth, the belief that we need something or someone else to “complete” us, avoidance of looking inward, etc. 

Your personal reasons can likely be found in any number of boxes we talked about last month in Feeling Boxed In, Unpacking the Boxes and Having Fun with Bubble Wrap.

The bottom line for all of us is that fear has an open door when we feel helpless, hopeless, powerless or less than.  This “less-ness” creates the unhealthy attachment to the things or people, which then allows fear to invite itself to come in and make itself at home in our lives.

We may do any number of things with our new houseguest.  We may avoid it like the elephant in the living room.  We may pick a fight with fear—cursing it and trying to kick it out of our home.  We may even try to outsmart it by moving out of the house altogether!

What I propose we do with fear, once it is inside the house, is to make a pot of tea or coffee and sit down with the fear in the dining room.  Radical idea, I know!

It would never have occurred to me had I not had a dream last year where I sat down with fear, as if it was a friend, and sought to better understand it.  I look at fear much like I look at pain these days.  Both are present to draw my attention to something important—they are both potentially helpful.

Rather than acting out over fears, I now seek to better understand where it is coming from and why.  I cannot understand something I avoid, have an adversarial relationship with, or deny.

No matter how you have convinced yourself you can outmuscle, outsmart or outrun your fears–you simply cannot!  I cannot either, which is why I’ve chosen to follow the dream I had right after my beloved first pump was removed.  I decided to work cooperatively with my fears (and my pain for that matter).

Consider inviting your fear over for a tea party.  Schedule an hour out of your day, as you would for any friend, and sit down and talk with it.  Make some cookies, set the table, put some fresh flowers in a vase and have some fun with your special visitor.  Fear is present to help you, not hurt you.

My fears have hurt me far more when they were lurking in the shadows, behind the scenes.  When I brought them into the spotlight, as I did in Fear Act I, I became more aware of them.  My next step was then to invite them over, willingly.  They’ll come into my home either way.  Inviting them is a way to preserve my personal power so that I have the courage to get to know the fears better.

The next time, we will discuss what to talk about with your fears at your tea party.  I would love to know what you would ask or say to your fears if you had the opportunity to befriend them, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Feeling boxed in?

Have you ever given much thought to how often you use labels to navigate through your day? 

Have you ever given thought to how often we fit others and ourselves into nicely organized boxes or categories?

I am referring to a label as any word or phrase we use to describe something or someone. 

Some broad examples include diagnoses, sexual orientations, political affiliations, religious affiliations, professional affiliations, astrological signs and so on.

In and of themselves, these words are neutral.  Unfortunately, the history of their use and overuse has given each of them an emotional charge that often comes attached to a fixed belief system about them.

Let’s do a little test.  What comes to mind when you read or hear the word “conservative”?  How about “liberal”, “disabled” or “gay”?

Did you get an image in your mind with each word?  Perhaps one word more than the others?  Could you picture a person or group of people and their associated behaviors with the words?

If you had a particular emotional or physical reaction to these words, did you notice your beliefs associated with them?

Even the most aware and conscious of humans use labels and categories.  While I dislike them, I also spent most of my professional life doling them out for pay!

I have also spent many years of my life identifying so strongly with a label or diagnosis that I lost sight of who I was without it.

Some of those labels included adult child of an alcoholic, depressed, eating disordered, married, divorced, disabled, etc. 

Before my actual diagnosis with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, I realized that adjusting and adapting to life in a wheelchair was not dependent upon a diagnosis.  Of course, even the physical therapists refused to treat me or help me without a label!

What I came to realize was that my own over-identification with any of the above was limiting my growth, potential and quite honestly my ability to function.

If you are labeled disabled, for example, and strongly identify with this label, then there are also some pretty fixed ideas and beliefs that naturally go along with that label.

This happens whether we are aware of it or not.  You can fill in the blanks:

Disabled people can…Disabled people cannot…Disabled people are…If you are disabled, then…

You see where I am going here?

Not only did I limit myself based on what I believed about my own labels, but I also limited others.

My beliefs about marriage, to use another example, do not just apply to me.  Those beliefs also are projected onto others, whether that is my intention or not.

This idea of marriage (or whatever) is what I know as my truth about it.  My truth becomes fixed and then became a point of reference for comparing/judging your idea/truth about marriage.

When our ideas become fixed, they can be likened to being wrapped neatly and tightly into a box.  You can put a pretty bow on the box, but that does not necessarily make it any prettier. 

We exclude and discriminate in the name of our boxes. 

By the time we reach the age of 20, we have hundreds or more of these nicely wrapped boxes based on our experiences. 

Each box serves to help us to filter the rest of our experiences.  I am certain my boxes were wrapped prematurely because I have learned a lot more about everything since I was 20!

It is easy to get comfortable within the coziness and illusion of safety that our boxes provide us.  Often these boxes are our identity and without them, we don’t know what we truly believe.

I am still unwrapping the boxes I wrapped up in my 20’s.  One of my least favorite things is to be placed into someone else’s box of presumptions. 

Of course, each time it happens, I feel grateful.  It helps to keep me on my toes so that I keep unwrapping.

Kitt O'Malley

Bipolar Writer and Mental Health Advocate

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