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

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.
 
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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:
 

Why Do I Blog About Mental Health? – A 2-part Question

Blog for Mental Health

Part A – I love to write

child-writing-credit-istock-91513956-630x420I am obsessed with writing I still remember my first diary that I kept tucked under my pillow.  I remember how it smelled, how it felt to put the tiny key into the shiny gold key hole, unlocking a space where I could write down all of the things that were swirling around in my head.  I remember thinking that my brain was like an attic, and every time I wrote it felt like I was sweeping up its dusty corners.  I felt like the little mermaid swimming into her secret world under water, safe from everything above the ocean’s surface.

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Writing gives me something to do with all the memories that pop up unexpectedly at inappropriate timesI have learned from experience it doesn’t pay to impulsively spout off a random story about my mom’s propensity to hear voices at the dinner table, when others are sharing their stories about family mealtime.  The awkward silence and puzzled looks on people’s faces quickly taught me to refrain from this type of sharing.

Writing is an acceptable way to deal with my obsessive thinkingMost days I wake up with a bunch of thoughts coming down the shoot, like chocolates on a conveyor belt.  I have found that it is easier to write them down than to engage in the many other unhealthy outlets that I have experimented with over the years.  There are the words I share here in my blog, and the ones I reserve for my journal.   Both venues provide an outlet to release the thoughts and feelings that visit themselves upon me every day.

Part B – Mental Health is Important

Mental illness impacts all of our lives – Since I have opened up and shared with people about the mental health issues in my family, many people have begun to share their experiences with me.  It turns out that at one time or another most people have experienced a mental health issue or have had a family member or close friend who has grappled with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar, alcohol or substance abuse, or any of the many other neurological imbalances that can affect the human brain.

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Relief from symptoms and recovery are possible – We can’t give up on searching for the best treatment options. These things are within our reach if we support organizations, legislation, research, and individuals’ efforts to seek optimal mental health.

em skatingBlogging provides a positive outlet to cope with my own personal experiences –  Although it has been many years since I had an eating disorder, the underlying issues of anxiety and depression must always be managed.  I still live with the scars left from living with my mom’s mental illness (schizophrenia), and still strive to learn from my daughter’s struggles with depression, a suicide attempt, and an eating disorder.  For some reason, my life has been defined in part by these experiences, and I want to maintain a positive outlook.

Blogging is a great way to connect with other people who feel passionate about mental healthI appreciate and celebrate all of the many wonderful mental health bloggers who open up their lives, hearts, and souls, giving a glimpse into the many facets of living with mental illness.

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CHEERS TO ALL OF THE MENTAL HEALTH BLOGGERS

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

 

Can I Feel Your Pain?

girls in oceanWhen we see a loved one suffering from emotional or physical pain, it seems natural to want to ease his or her suffering.  Sometimes we can have such a strong reaction that it feels like we are actually experiencing his or her pain.  But can we really feel someone else’s pain?  More importantly, can we really help another person when we believe we must suffer with them?  If you have ever witnessed a woman in labor, you will know the answer to these questions.  The only one who really feels the excrutiating pain of the contractions, like waves battering the shoreline, is the one who is in labor.  Yet this knowledge does not discount the partner’s desire to be a part of the experience and provide assistance.  Couples invest hours of time preparing themselves for child-birth so that each will know what their roles will be in the process.   Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of preparing for our role as “coach” when someone we love encounters a mental health crisis.

During the peak of my daughter’s struggles with her eating disorder and depression, I came to the realization that the only way to truly help was to find an outlet for my own reactions so that I could be fully present to her in a calm, rational manner.   In those moments of doubt and insecurity, my heart learned that as much as I wanted to, I could neither take on her pain nor make it go away.  The job of working through the pain was hers, and hers alone.   My only job was to show her love and acceptance regardless of how unworthy she felt.  Being there in the hospital with her, playing cards, sitting quietly holding her hand, helping her to take care of chores that had been neglected, and laughing with her when she needed a reprieve were the simple and important actions that I could take.

Eventually all of us will know what it is like to experience disappointment, loss, trauma, or illness.  In these times of pain and crisis, it is comforting to have the empathy and compassion of our loved ones.  Yet reaching out can be difficult when faced with the prospect of disappointing or causing them pain.  Often we do not ask for help because we are afraid of how our family and friends will react.   The fear of causing someone else sleepless nights and stress can win out over our need for support, deepening our suffering.  Sending someone who is suffering the message that we can be there for them without coming apart can impact their decision to ask for our help.

In the past, I found the Familie’s Anonymous website to have some helpful pointers.  Here is one piece of literature that I made sure to keep handy when I noticed I was trying to take away my daughter’s pain.

Helping

From Families Anonymous website

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.

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Check out this link from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for some Important Research in Suicide Prevention.

IMG_0761There are many research studies being conducted throughout the United States to help us better understand and treat mental health conditions.  I strongly urge those who have felt the impact of a mental illness either in themselves or a friend or family member to learn more about all of the research studies being conducted.  Participation in these studies is critical to finding the best methods of treatment and hopefully the knowledge gained may one day lead to cures as well.

ClinicalTrials.gov is a national registry that provides information about current clinical trials.  Check it out to find a study in your area.

Lessons from Saving Mr. Banks

I went to see the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, last night and thoroughly enjoyed this uplifting story.  I was also deeply touched by the lessons that were embedded within it for anyone who has grown up with a parent who has a mental illness.

The movie clearly and poignantly illustrates the impact a man’s alcoholism had on his family and in particular, one of his daughters, who was very attached to him.  It is so difficult watching a parent deteriorate, unable to overcome a deadly illness such as alcoholism.   Each family member is impacted differently.  The sensitive child is especially prone to becoming attached to the ill parent, even when that child is negatively impacted by the illness.  This kind of attachment has a lasting effect on the child and can easily be carried into adulthood.

The movie also shows how a person can overcome painful experiences through creative expression, as P.L. Travers did with her book, Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney did with the creation of his park and animated characters.

Through creative expression and sharing experiences, we are able to make peace with  our pasts and provide hope to the many people who are or have been in similar situations.