How to stop wishing your life away

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

Helen Keller

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I can’t wait until the holidays are over…

I can’t wait until it is warm outside

I wish I were thinner

I wish I didn’t have to work every day

I wish I looked like Jennifer Lawrence

I can’t wait to get out of this meeting

I wish I were “normal”

I can’t wait until this class is over

I can’t wait until I see my family

I can’t wait until I retire….

How often do I say these things to myself, essentially wishing for things to be different from how they are in this moment.  The truth is, this moment may be the only one I have so how can I make it count?

I was in a staff meeting the other day and someone said something that really hurt my feelings.

staff meeting

At first I drifted off into a litany of thoughts about how bad that person made me feel and how bleak my future was going to be at work now.   I then realized that I had the power to change the dialogue in my head to something more compassionate.  I am not a victim of the world I see. I don’t need to give anyone permission to rob my peace in this moment. I was able to acknowledge the way I was feeling and give myself the choice about how I would frame that thought and how I would deal with it.  Staying present in the moment was empowering and enabled me to address the person in such a way that acknowledged both of our feelings.  I utilized the tools in my toolbox that I have learned over the years of therapy, support groups, etc to reframe my anxious thoughts.

As a young girl growing up, I drew much strength from reading about Helen Keller.  When it comes to living in the moment, I can’t think of anyone who illustrates an example of accepting one’s state of being more than her.  Before she was given the tools to accept her conditions of blindness and deafness, she was wild and unruly.  Once Ann Sullivan taught her how to reach out to the world around her, Helen was able to bridge those gaps and “see” the world in a different way.  It took a long time for her to learn how to cope and compensate for her disabilities, but she went on to accomplish many great things.

Dealing with mental and emotional illness is no less daunting at times and it would be easy to give up hope.  Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and seek the tools and answers that will allow you to make peace with what is in the present moment.  It will take practice, perseverance, and patience, but it will be worth it.

 

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Notice How You Judge Yourself and Others

You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.
Rumi

Notice each day how often judgments about other people are in your  thoughts.  What are these judgments about?  I have found that many times the judgmental thoughts I have about someone else are the very things I am struggling with about myself.   When I learn to approach myself with more compassion, then I am more likely to let my negative feelings about others pass through me without needing to react in a hurtful manner.

alone in the dark a little girl sits up in her bed in the dark in the ...Each time I have a thought about myself that I am not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, clever enough, young enough, thoughtful enough, or creative enough, I am casting a shadow on my  true self.   I am learning that I can question these intrusive thoughts and find another possibility that is more loving.  Often they are rooted in an all-or-nothing mentality, overlooking all of the options in between.

These concepts are extremely difficult for me and I struggle with them every day.  I try to remember (many times forgetting) to set my intentions each morning, and the moment I walk out the door, with each encounter, the critic in my head gets louder and louder.  I am learning to take a few deep breaths during the day when it gets too overwhelming and that seems to help.   It is hard to retrain one’s brain and the first step is to simply notice.  I worked hard at these concepts when I was recovering from my eating disorder and the underlying anxiety, many years ago.   While it has been over 26 years since I have engaged in the self-destructive behaviors, I’ve come to realize that raising my awareness of how my thoughts impact my overall well-being is an ongoing process that I must embrace, as a mother embraces her child.

“Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It’s not what they’re not doing or should be doing that’s the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.”  – Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Learning to Let Go

photo(59)The big day that I have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading has come to pass.  My daughter moved out this weekend, ending her 2-1/2 year journey since her return home from college.    During our time together we have been the accidental witnesses to each others’ attempts to reshape our separate lives.    Both of us have been in the process of starting over.  My gradual recovery from a painful divorce and her gradual recovery from the eating disorder and depression that so severely disrupted her final years of college have consumed us during the past two years.   Although extremely difficult at times, I may have finally reached the point of succumbing to the true meaning of letting go.   As I put the pieces of my own life back together, I have learned the importance of caring for oneself in order to be of use to others.   In the course of mending my own life, I have more easily begun to back off from trying to manage hers.

teeter-totterThis past spring my daughter took the brave step of writing about her suicide attempt.    It was hard for me to read her post, and I am just now realizing how much I have allowed one day of her life to define my idea of her as a person and to form assumptions about my role in her life.   Since she experienced her first bout of depression at age 14, I have been struggling with how to best help her, and as I look back I can see that there were many times when I enabled rather than helped her.   I often treated her like a fragile being and tried to shelter her from the consequences of her mistakes.  Learning how to best help someone with mental health problems can be challenging, and  I’ve tried to use the advice from this Familie’s Anonymous literature  as my guide:

Helping

My role as a helper is not to do things for the person I am trying to help, but to be things, not trying to control and change his/her actions, but through understanding and awareness to change my reactions.  I will change my negatives to positives; fear to faith; contempt for what he/she may do to respect for the potential within him/her; hostility to understanding; and manipulation or over-protectiveness to release with love, not trying to make him/her fit a standard or image, but giving him/her an opportunity to pursue his/her own destiny, regardless of what that choice may be.

I will change my dominance to encouragement; panic to serenity; the inertia of despair to the energy of my own personal growth; and self-justification to self-understanding.

Self-pity blocks effective action.

The more I indulge in it, the more I feel that the answer to my problems is a change in others and society, not in myself.  Thus, I become a hopeless case.

Exhaustion is the result when I use my energy in mulling over the past with regret, or in trying to figure ways to escape a future that has yet to arrive.  Projecting an image of the future, and anxiously hovering over it, for fear that it will or it won’t come true uses all of my energy and leaves me unable to live today.  Yet living today is the only way to have a life.

I will have no thought for the future actions of others,neither expecting them to be better or worse as time goes on, for in such expectations I  am really trying to create.  I will love and let be.

All people are always changing.If I try to judge them I do so only on what I think I know of them, failing to realize that there is much I do not know.  I will give others credit for attempts at progress and for having had many victories which are unknown to me.

I too am always changing,and I can make that change a constructive one, if I am willing.  I CAN CHANGE MYSELF, others I can only love

 photo(64)I am grateful that my daughter came home to help my father during the months he was being treated for lymphoma.  It was a blessing for all of us.  During this time I have had the security of seeing her in passing each day while creating more distance as I navigate through my own life as an independent woman.  I have been learning to let go and observe as she achieves the goals she sets forth.   Despite her ups and downs, I have watched her build and maintain relationships,  grow and learn in a nurturing work environment, finish her final classes, and ultimately land a wonderful opportunity to launch her dream job as a college coach.  Because of her life experiences she has and will continue to provide support to the kids she coaches who are experiencing anxiety and depression.

tambaAs the time approached for my daughter to finally leave the nest, the push and pull between us was palpable.  I have heard it said that one may actually create conflict with a loved one prior to parting in order to make the good-bye easier.   In this case this tension between us made it easier to step back and allow her to do things her way.   It was hard to watch what I classified as disorganization as she approached moving day.  It wasn’t easy but I  finally realized that I needed to back out and let her dad help her with the move rather than hovering over her in my usual fashion.   It felt good to finally be able to tell her I would help at her request but would otherwise back off.    I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me to watch her pull out of the driveway with no arrangements for a permanent place to stay on the other end.  It was a monumental step and a humbling experience for me to stay behind, allowing her father to be her primary source of support.

poolI hadn’t heard from my daughter for two days, and it came as a complete surprise when she called yesterday to tell me she had found a house and had already starting moving her things in.  What a great lesson for me.  Things happen even when I am not in control of them!   I am amazed at the sense of relief I am now experiencing, knowing that I can provide her unconditional love without trying to micromanage her life.   I am finally able to see that she has coping skills, tools, and many sources of support outside of me.  More importantly, I am finally able to see that our lives are fluid and ever-changing.   The key to emotional resilience is knowing that each moment is an opportunity to start anew, and our emotions and intellect are never in a permanent state of being, as this article about success from News.mic illustrates.

 

The Loss of Relationships

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It is a sad truth that sometimes relationships are lost either because of someone’s struggles with a mental illness, or sometimes as  the result of becoming healthy again.  I like this poem by Elizabeth Bishop, which at first glance seems to describe such losses in casual  terms, as if they are of little consequence.  It is only when taking a deeper look that one is able to recognize the true impact of these moments of loss.

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day.  Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel.   None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch.   And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones.  And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied.   It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
 
flower bud
 
I first came across this poem in the movie, In Her Shoes.   The movie is about the impact of a mother’s mental illness on her children, her spouse, and her mother.  I cry whenever I watch the scene where the sisters are talking about their memories of their mom’s manic episodes.  Here is a clip from that movie:
 

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments

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The article below from the NAMI website contains some great tips about treatment options that can be used alone or in addition to medications, depending upon the nature of one’s mental illness.  Recovering from a mental illness takes time, effort, dedication, and as much support as possible to prevent one from becoming discouraged with the ups and downs of the process.  Don’t be afraid to try some of these suggestions, especially if you feel like you are stuck in a rut and unable to move forward.

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments.

Mastering Worry

frying pan1I can’t believe I have gotten this far along in my blogging career without writing about worry.  In fact, I didn’t even have a worry category or tag until today (well, I will, right after I complete this blog).  This revelation is so monumental that I didn’t even worry about the skillet I left on the burner so that I could come into the living room to write it down.  It wasn’t until I was alerted by the smell of burning oil that I realized I had actually left a burner on and smoke was billowing from the kitchen.  Not to mention the fact that I am now going to be late for work.  Progress or cause for more worry??

Could it be that I have actually learned enough techniques that this part of my psyche has somehow taken a back seat to other more pressing issues, such as living in the moment?  And what happens if I stop worrying?  Will I burn the house down?  This thought is cause for great alarm!

I am worried that my capacity for worry is actually diminishing lately, as the pendulum swings into the other direction of complacency.  While others at work fret about meeting their deadlines and turning in their monthly reports, I find myself waiting until the last-minute just because I can.  Perhaps the fact that I work with a bunch of professional worriers has put it into perspective for me.  There is an ongoing debate we have at work about whether we were attracted to our jobs as clinical research professionals because we were a bit obsessive compulsive, or whether the job made us this way.  I think I know the answer to this question, having seen a procession of regular, non-worrying people come and go in our department, while the die-hard worriers have hung in there for the past 15+ years, clinging to our desperate need to control something!    We torture ourselves pouring over documents, only to have some auditor come in and find the one “i” that wasn’t dotted and the one “t” left uncrossed.  Research is the perfect breeding ground for someone who can never be satisfied with a job well down.  There are plenty of enforcers coming along behind us to let us know we have not achieved anything close to perfection.  I was stricken when my co-worker and I asked our boss which of us was the most anal retentive, and she said that it was neither because there were others in the department that were much more neurotic.  I was highly insulted and can’t tell you how many days I spent worrying about that one!

I wish I could say that I am now the master of all of my worries, but not so.   I still grapple with what seems to be a family legacy (from my father – thanks dad, didn’t see that one coming) each and every waking moment of my day.  Fortunately, before you decide to stop reading and give up hope, I can tell you that it has actually gotten better.  Yes, there are ways to put worry in its place.  You don’t have to be a prisoner to your worries any more.

Phobia_1So first, here are the worries that I have mastered: fear of flying, public speaking, social situations, heights, elevators, crowds, dying, going “crazy” (as I used to refer to it before I realized how demeaning this term was), gaining weight, going to hell, the future, my health, and many more, mostly related to what people think about me.  

Here are the worries I still have issues with:  worrying about my children, my grandchild, family and friends, going to prison (not sure what this one is about), getting fired, and looking stupid and/or making an ass of myself; playing cornhole, softball, bowling, volleyball, or any other sport that involves tossing a ball under-handed. 

me worryFor expediency sake, I have oversimplified both the magnitude of my worries and the recovery process.  Chronic worrying can be debilitating and zap one’s energy and zest for life.  There were times (and still sometimes are) when I felt like there was a part of my brain that was data-mining for something to worry about, and this led to a lot of misery.  It is much better now, thanks to a huge amount of effort on my part.

Here are some things that worked for me over the years:

  • Listening to Lucinda Bassett’s tapes, over and over again
  • Going to a support group for anxiety
  • Taking medication
  • Doing the four questions from The Work developed by Byron Katie
  • Having great friends with whom I can share my worries and laugh about them
  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Counseling with a good, understanding therapist
  • Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
  • Attending workshops and seminars
  • Regular exercise
  • Limiting time spent with people who are negative
  • Creative expression – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a great method of tapping into one’s inner creativity
  • Developing a sense of humor -watching funny movies and reading books that make me laugh helps keep my mind occupied.  I enjoy reading/listening to books on tape by David SedarisHis lighthearted approach to the years he spent struggling with severe obsessive compulsive behaviors and tics brings a smile to my face every time I listen to him. 
  • Years of practicing all of the above

I will leave you with this MUST LISTEN TO song if you are like me and worry about being liked.  I’m still working on this one!

When I’m Cured

IMG_0426If you have ever had any type of mental health issue, you will know well the thought of what life will be like when you are “cured”.  Much like the person on a diet who imagines how much better things will be after losing 50 pounds, we can easily fall into the habit of deciding to start living life when certain conditions are met.  In fact, sometimes we get so caught up in this kind of magical thinking that we neglect to do the actual footwork needed in the moment.   Looking forward to a better day can be healthy and give us hope. It can also lead to denial and paralysis.   With the first hint of a set-back (like the dieter who eats the piece of chocolate cake) we may be tempted to mentally scrap the day, opting to start again tomorrow.

Recovery from any health issue requires patience and slowing down, as we experience first hand that there are certain things we cannot control.  Premature weight bearing on a broken leg can lead to further injury and delayed recovery.  When we are in tune with our bodies, they will let us know what is needed.  When a person is a struggling with a mental illness, the signals become distorted and it is difficult to trust one’s feelings.   This can result in a frenzy of activities that are subconsciously intended to numb us to the current moment such as excessive intake of alcohol, food, drugs, work, and other risky behaviors.  We become so proficient at running away from the pain that we create a vacuum in our souls.  This vacuum is rooted in the belief that we are not worthy of anything better.

Our most promising chance for recovery is in making the most of the present moment.  We will never reach perfection, and sometimes we will make a mess of things.  Regardless of how far away we feel we are from that “cure” and how much pain we may be in, being able to focus on the moment at hand without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can bring a tiny glimmer of peace and hope.  We may not be able to control our thoughts, but allowing ourselves to become present in the moment, even for a brief second, will lead us to a greater level of truth.

Slowing down when we are tempted to go faster can provide us with a glimpse into the answers we are seeking.  When driving along in a speeding car, how likely are you to notice the buds on a tree in the spring or the wing span of a hawk amidst the white puffy clouds of a summer day?  Even if it means facing feelings of despair, there is great value in slowing down enough to acknowledge what is happening in the moment.  Sometimes the voice of desperation deep within our soul needs to be heard.  Acknowledging that voice can be a scary experience but can also be the catalyst for real growth.

Physical and spiritual growth cannot be reduced to mechanics. I’m all for getting the mechanics right, but spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it’s a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude.”

– Mike Yaconelli

9 Reasons to Let Go of Perfectionism

NYT2009012015594807C1) The only thing that is perfect is what is happening in this moment because it is indisputable.  Applying perfectionist standards to our past experiences is another way to fruitlessly torture ourselves, yet many of us do this on a regular basis.  Thinking we can change anything that has already happened is like thinking we can go back in time and stop the meteor that landed in Arizona from crashing into the desert, leaving behind its wondrous crater.  Lamenting about how things should have been is a waste of time.  The better use of our energy is to utilize the knowledge gained from our experiences to grow and direct our next steps, appreciating the imprint our past experiences have left on our environment and our souls.  one world 2)The type of perfection we are seeking doesn’t exist.  Each individual has his or her own idea of what constitutes perfection.  The word “perfect” is overused and often serves as an excuse to pursue one’s own ideas about what is right while disregarding everyone else’s perspectives.  This is illustrated in the number of religions in the world and the vast array of beliefs that are associated with those religions.  It is also illustrated in the many heinous crimes that have been committed under the guise of seeking perfection for religious and political causes.

3)We are not wired to be perfect.  Even those individuals who have achieved great things by society’s standards have many characteristics that would be considered imperfect by those same standards.  Our so-called negative traits do not diminish our contributions to society.  Einstein contributed much to our understanding of the universe, yet he experienced the same conflicts in his interpersonal relationships as the rest of us.  Mother Theresa demonstrated the ultimate philanthropical spirit of love in God’s name, yet the writings she left behind showed that she had many doubts about the goodness of mankind and the existence of God.  It can take a lifetime of learning to recognize the importance of making mistakes.  What really counts is not allowing our shortcomings to stand in the way of leading a fulfilling life.

4)Perfectionists are no fun.  Some people try hard to conceal their true selves, relying on their outside accomplishments to define themselves.  Their self-worth is derived mainly by their appearances and status.  All of us do this to a certain extent, but it can be taken to extremes.  There is nothing wrong with working hard to bring beauty into the world.   It is when we place more value on our achievements and status than on our fellow human beings that our relationships begin to suffer.   Consider how much delight it gave everyone when the beautiful actress, Jennifer Lawrence, tripped at the Oscars.  It makes us all feel a little better when people are willing to expose their flaws as well.  Let’s embrace our imperfections and have some fun!

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5)Perfectionism is a cage that limits our possibilities.  When we rigidly limit ourselves to a particular outcome, we are not open to the possibility that perhaps something even better exists.  This type of perfectionism can blind us to the opportunities that are in front of us right now.   Maintaining flexibility in our expectations will lead to greater satisfaction than creating standards that are impossible to achieve. 

6) The pursuit of perfection can be a clever disguise for the pursuit of superiority.  It isn’t our fault that we were made to compete with each other in order to survive.  This biologically innate nature drives us to want to be better than those around us.  This desire is rooted in the basic concept of “survival of the fittest” and is necessary to stay alive.  But we do have a choice about how to utilize that drive for the sake of humanity and not just ourselves.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable at times can lead to a feeling of connection with those around us.

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7)The pursuit of perfection is an obstacle to our peace of mind.  The perfection we are seeking distracts us from being able to embrace reality.  It is often easier to focus on something we believe will bring us happiness than to appreciate the random, exciting nature of the world in which we live.  If our fundamental underlying belief is that we need to be in control of all situations (and clearly we are not), than we will make ourselves miserable trying to achieve our misguided idea of perfection.  

8)The pursuit of perfection can cause us to make more mistakes.  Studies have shown  that musicians who are perfectionists are more likely to make mistakes than their counterparts who are able to let go of their expectations and relax.  Anyone who has ever been terrified to speak in public, perform on stage, or participate in a big competition understands all too well the fear of not living up to other people’s expectations.  The realization that we don’t have to do things perfectly can be such a freeing experience. 

9)There is a difference between striving to do well and striving for perfection.  Striving to do well is rooted in love, while striving for perfection is rooted in the ego.  If you have ever watched Julia Child preparing one of her famous recipes, you will know what I am talking about.  She loved cooking and did not let it phase her when she made mistakes on air.  There are many reality shows about cooking now, like Hell’s Kitchen, that teach us more about the heartache of not living up to someone’s standards of perfection than about the joys of cooking.  This all or nothing approach is a reflection of a culture that has adopted a perfectionists’ mentality, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy into it.  

Resist the urge to be perfect and start living your life with passion.

Celebrating ADHD

zoo-rhinoWhen my daughter was in first grade, I chaperoned her class field trip to the National Zoo.  I remember standing in front of the rhinoceros exhibit with a group of parents and children.   Some of them were talking about the size of the rhinoceros and how he was eating, and others talked about how funny he looked.  I said “look at the size of his horn”.   Then, out of my adorable blonde little child’s mouth came this, “oh, and I see there is his penis” in the most cheerful, chipper voice.

One of the dads who was standing there burst out laughing and she just looked up at him, feeling proud that she had noticed.  At this point, I had come to expect these types of observations from my daughter and smiled down at her affectionately.

The-Nutcracker-Birmingham-001Nothing went unnoticed with her.  Wherever we went she would point out something that caught her attention such as the bald man at the hardware store.   One of our friends at the time had a drinking problem, and before she was even two years old she would say “Budweiser” whenever she saw him.   When she saw the Nutcracker with her 2nd grade friends and I asked her how she liked it, her first comment was “those boys pants were really tight.”

She had boundless energy and was harder to keep track of than our 6 month old puppy.  On several occasions we lost her in downtown DC or Annapolis.  Turn your back for a moment and she was gone, off roaming around looking at everything, unaware that she was no longer with us.

????????????????????????????When people asked me if she was hyper, I would indignantly say “NO”.  I didn’t know if I even believed in ADHD.  I knew she had trouble sitting still, winding down, and tuning out anything in her environment, but I saw all of the positives ways in which these traits enhanced her life.  She loved trying new activities and was good at most anything she did.  She had a joyful spirit that drew people to her.  Her incredible spirit was occasionally thwarted when she was unable to meet her own stringent expectations of herself and would melt down from exhaustion.  Finally, after several years of denial it became obvious that she was struggling more to keep up and we finally accepted the doctor’s diagnosis of ADHD.

n18400798_33954910_2057My daughter has been able to accomplish many wonderful things because of her ADHD.  Her energy, impulsivity, creativity, and athletic ability served her well in her high school and college swimming career, and she was able to achieve many of her goals.  Yet there is also a price to pay for those who try so hard to fit into society’s expectations of them, and her inability to conform to those expectations at times led to the depression she has experienced on and off since adolescence.  Sometimes she laments that she feels like she has to work so much harder than other people.  She struggles with the all of nothing mentality that often makes her feel like she isn’t good enough.  When left unchecked this can lead to a downward spiral of depression and feeling defeated.

I wish I would have done more when she was younger to help her come to terms with this side of herself.  The boredom that often accompanies ADHD can lead to self-destructive behaviors if not channeled properly.  Fortunately my daughter is learning to celebrate her successes and not to dwell on the little disappointments that have gotten her down in the past.

I found this clip last night and showed it to her, because it makes some great points about how much she and those like her contribute to the world.