Gratitude Challenge, Day 12

Well, I am over the hump – with both this challenge and with the week. It’s been an interesting day so far, mostly in good ways. Our groups were, for the first time I can think of, composed of just men today, which was kind of an unusual experience. I applied to a bunch of new jobs today, mostly at a local community college, so maybe something will come of that. I’m looking for a roommate, or an apartment-mate, for when I move out of step-down housing and into my own place, but that’s not going so well – I am just about out of people I know around here to ask. I am still looking into getting health insurance and a car, as well; hopefully I’ll have at least some of that worked out soon. I may end up living solo for a while after I leave the step-down, which worries me, but I think I can work something out with my friends to try and help me out with that.

Anyway, on to the gratitude challenge. Today, I am grateful for pets. I don’t currently have one, but I enjoy being around the pets of the people here in the program. I like animals, and mostly they seem to like me. Being around dogs, and sometimes cats, is comforting, and I just like being around animals who have, more or less, unconditional affection for me. They may not be great conversationalists, but they are good company.

Also, I am grateful for ice cream. Or frozen yogurt. I’ll take either. There are some kinds I prefer over others – cookies and cream, Heath Bar crunch, caramel – but I like most kinds. It’s a nice comfort food, even if I can’t afford to eat a whole lot of it – my stupid metabolism tends to be so slow that I need to work out pretty hard and often to lose even the tiniest bit of weight. It tastes good, most people like to eat it (or they should), and it’s a stereotypical food that people turn to when they feel lousy for a reason.

Finally, I am grateful for openness. I know I am not the most open person in the world; I think I use this blog as a way to take the easy way out on that, because it is much easier for me to talk about things here – even with an audience of people I mostly don’t know – than to talk about important issues in person. But I do appreciate being able to try and work on that openness, and the trust others place in me when they share personal information with me.

For a positive experience from the last 24 hours, I think I’ll go with one that is pretty recent; Earlier tonight I got the chance to go out to dinner with a friend who I haven’t been spending a lot of time with, and at least part of that is on me. He’s been having problems, and hasn’t been around as often as he used to be, and I was just accepting that without doing anything to connect with him because I was too busy dealing with my own issues. Going to dinner tonight was good because it gave us a chance to catch up; he’ll be leaving the program soon, and after that we likely won’t see each other often. He’s a good guy, and I’ll miss having him around, but I think he’s in a better place than he was, and I hope for the best for him.

In my typical alternating style, today I spent time riding the exercise bike of pain. As you might guess, it was not the mot enjoyable experience, and about an hour afterwards I felt like sleeping, but It was good for me, so I press on. As for meditation, I only got a few minutes in today, but a few minutes was enough to be good.

I’ve sent out a couple gratitude messages today, and I even got a response from someone I haven’t heard from in a while, which was cool; maybe we’ll be able to meet up when she gets back to town. I am having to be somewhat more creative now, though.

That’s what I have for today, so I’ll be back tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

The How of Happy

I’ve been watching a lot of TED Talks lately. Yeah, yeah, so sue me. They show a lot of them in our groups. But this most recent one I got from SuperBetter, the game designed by Jane McGonigal that I mentioned several entries ago. It is all about the science of happiness. Yes, happiness can be scientific. Dan Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard, tells us why and how.

So happiness all comes down to choice. Not only does it come down to choice, but it also comes down to us being stuck, essentially, with the choice we make. When we are left in a situation where there is uncertainty in the choice, we tend to think about it so much that we make ourselves miserable. Here, I’ll use an example (sorry, this example assumes a male, because that’s what I am; I imagine it is easily reversible for women). Say a guy talks to a woman. While talking to her, he says that he has feelings for her, and asks if she would like to go out. Now, if she says yes, happiness will probably result. If she says no, there will be disappointment, but ultimately happiness will probably result. But if she gives him an answer and then gives him the option of changing her mind later, the guy will be miserable because he’ll constantly be wondering if his choice was the right one.

Not a perfect example, I’ll grant you. But it seems that happiness comes down to two things – choice and our ability to change that choice. There’s a well-known quote that I’d like to use here, from a man named Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Anyone familiar with AA and other 12-step programs will be familiar with this, the Serenity Prayer. This is a quote that leads to happiness. When you accept that you cannot change some things, no matter how horrible they might be – in DBT, we call this ‘radical acceptance’ – then you will, in the long run, be happier than if you try to obsess about changing something you just can’t change.

Happiness is possible to synthesize, it turns out. We just need to be shown how to do it. It won’t be easy, I imagine – there are things I know I can’t change that I still want to change anyway. But accepting some things won’t change – like accepting that I have depression, which will never go away – can help us to move on, and be happier with the things we can change. That acceptance is a key ingredient to happiness, it seems. So I’m going to try it out.

Looking Up (Gratitude Challenge, Day 11)

Today has been a good day for me. Even if people weren’t fully participating in groups, and there were people who bothered me, today has been good for me. I woke up on time, got a chance to talk about some things that were important to me, and got to go out for a good lunch with good company. I got a chance to go to the pool and swim in peace, and get my exercise in for the day; I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it’ll be a good kind of sore. And I got a chance to talk to someone I care about, and got to clear the air.

So, since I am feeling good so far, I thought I would write up my gratitude post early. 

I am grateful for clarity. I had trouble with a friendship, and a lot of that was because things weren’t made clear, to either of us. That caused some hurt feelings, and a lot of uncertainty. But we met today and hashed things out, and I think we’re clear on things. I have trouble seeing things clearly sometimes, and if that goes on for too long, it ends up in more pain and trouble , so I am resolved to ask more questions about things, and she’s going to inform me earlier if things bother her. Clarity is good to have, and I’m glad to have my friend back.

I am grateful for exercise. I never thought I would be saying that, because I generally hate exercise. I still don’t particularly enjoy it, but it gives me time to myself to think, which can be nice sometimes – though riding the exercise is boring; I’d use it for longer than 45 minutes, but that’s about all I can take before even my music and tablet can’t keep me occupied.  It’s the after part that I like; I feel more energetic after having exercised, and I get to eat more of what I like without feeling guilty, and I am slowly losing weight. Very slowly – but slow is better than nothing, and I have exercise to thank for most of that.

Finally, I am grateful for Super Soakers. I’ve got two just sitting here in the apartment, all loaded up and ready to go, just waiting for a chance to go and ambush my fellow peers at the step-down. It’s a fun way to blow off some steam, and doesn’t do any real damage, just gets people a bit wet for a while. Also, Super Soakers are way better than the generic squirt guns, because they don’t leak, explode, or shoot in directions they aren’t meant to. Damn, now I wanna go squirt some people.

As for a positive experience for today, I got to reconnect to a friend, a friend I was afraid wasn’t even still my friend. We got together and talked, and while what we talked about wasn’t all sunshine and puppies, the fact that we were talking at all was good for me. I got to catch up with a friend, and while our relationship won’t be the same as it was before, that may be for the better; I want to make our friendship healthy and enjoyable for both of us. It’s going to be work, but it will be enjoyable work; any time spent with a good friend is worth it. 

I took to the pool for exercise today, and spent a good 40 minutes swimming back and forth. My arms are sore already, but that will work out for the better. Afterwards I had a good 20 minutes spent working on meditation and breathing exercises; towards the end, though, I was getting kind of drowsy, enough so that my RLS started to kick in.

I sent out another gratitude text to a friend, too, because I don’t know my friend’s e-mail address. I don’t know if my friend got it, but then, I don’t know that their receipt of it matters as much as my being able to be grateful to my friends and other people.

Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression Symptoms in an Acronym

Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression Symptoms in an Acronym.

I have a lot of friends and people I have come to know while in treatment who are bipolar – in fact, at both Menninger and the step-down, I figure that if you guess someone either has clinical depression or is bipolar, you have about an 80% chance of being correct. I thought this might be interesting to check out, both for them and for other people who have friends, family, and loved ones who are bipolar.

Gratitude Challenge, Day 10

Since I already wrote a whopper of a post, I’ll try to keep this relatively short.

Today, I am grateful for vulnerability. Like I wrote in my previous post, it has a lot of power, and my ability to be vulnerable with others at Menninger and the step-down has been an important part of my treatment and how far I’ve come.

I am grateful for my fellow step-down clients. While I may not get along with all of them, it is good to be  in a community of people who have similar problems. Some people are more devoted to the program than others, but everybody who is here has actually stayed, even when it gets difficult and uncomfortable. I appreciate that.

I am grateful for my music. Well, not my music, I didn’t make it, but it is on my playlists, and I like the way it makes me feel when I listen to it. I can even work on inducing certain reactions with the right music, which I find cool, and good for those times when I need to get psyched up for something, whether it is a workout or an RPG session.

For a positive experience from the last 24 hours, I’ll go with group psychotherapy this morning. Sadly, I can’t say much about it, because what is said in group stays in group, but it was a good way to spend my time this morning. Even though there are only a few of us who regularly attend, it is still a group that I feel comfortable with. It is always hard to deal with people leaving, and with new people coming in, but everyone I have spent time on group psych with has been someone I felt comfortable sharing with. Like today, I didn’t necessarily have a great deal to say, but I like to think what I do end up saying has some helpful meaning to the other people in the group; I know I often feel that way about what other people have to say.

For exercise today, I went down to the gym, hopped on the exercise bike, and rode for about 45 minutes, going ten virtual miles. I felt completely drained after I came back to my apartment, but I got time earlier in the day to meditate and work on breathing exercises. 

I didn’t send an e-mail to a friend today, but I sent a text (because I don’t know her e-mail). Just a few minutes ago, in fact. I’m not sure if this is becoming easier or harder, but it is certainly making me think about what I feel grateful to various people for.

Vulnerable

If you think about it, in our culture, to be vulnerable is to be weak. Being vulnerable means that you have a weakness that can – and some would say should be – exploited. It is a bad thing in our eyes, and so we try to avoid it. But something I have been learning is that you can’t have meaningful relationships, and connect deeply with others, without being vulnerable. If you can’t open up, you will never have a deep, close, heartfelt relationship, because you will be too busy trying to protect yourself from pain to let anyone see that you can occasionally let your guard down. This is something that Brene Brown, a researcher into shame and vulnerability, talks about in one of her TED Talks:

I have a hard time being vulnerable. This is not news to those people who know me; it is hard work to get close enough to me that you can see past the outside armor I wear to the bits on the inside that I keep hidden away. I have spent most of my life wearing emotional armor that would make the armor medieval knights wore look like lace undergarments. I avoided most people, most of the people I did talk to I tended to be very taciturn, and even when I got to know people I used humor to keep from having to be serious – because if I was serious, then I was vulnerable. Being vulnerable meant a chance of being truly, deeply hurt, and I didn’t want that to ever happen again.

I would literally try to numb myself to things that made me feel emotions – if a song I heard made me tear up and feel like crying, I would listen to that song over and over until I had no reaction to it anymore. If it hurt to do something, I would do that repeatedly until I couldn’t feel the pain. Being numb was an easier way to face the world than being open, because being open meant pain. I had not felt joy for so long that I couldn’t remember how it felt, and so I didn’t believe I would ever have it again – and if I never had that again, why would I want to feel anything? What I didn’t realize was that this was very self-fulfilling – that by numbing myself to sadness, fear, pain, and guilt, I was also making myself incapable of feeling joy, because you can’t numb just one emotion – you numb one of them, you numb them all.

There were a few people who saw past my walls, mostly through perseverance and dedication and being good friends, but there were times that I put up walls that even they couldn’t breach – though they didn’t know it. My most recent suicide attempt in January is a sad testament to this fact; I had just spent almost two weeks with some of my very closest friends, and though I had been planning to kill myself for months, they never saw any sign of it. It was only after I had tried, and failed, to kill myself that I realized what I was doing to the people around me who cared about me – I had thought they would be better off if my useless, unworthy self wasn’t around anymore, but all I did was cause them immense amounts of pain, guilt, and sadness, as well as some anger.

So when I came to Menninger, I told myself that there, in that place, I would be totally open. I would be vulnerable. I would tell anyone who cared to ask anything they wanted to know about me, no matter how painful, or shameful, or difficult. This was hard at first, because I am a shy person – I am far more articulate writing here on this blog than I am in person, because I have time to organize my thoughts here. But little by little, I opened up. I told the truth, even when it was hard. I told people about things I had been hiding for years. I spoke up in groups even when I was embarrassed to talk.  I let everyone in, and let everyone see the many truths about me – and they accepted me. I think that openness, that vulnerability, is why I made so many friends in Menninger – we were all in a place where being vulnerable was expected, where we could tell each other anything and it was safe. So we formed close bonds through shared suffering, through trying to help one another.

I began to see that the person I had thought I wanted to be wasn’t who I was. It was something that I was moving towards because it was a familiar path, because it was something I thought was expected of me, but I didn’t know that that person was who I was, or who I wanted to be. I fought a lot of this; I still have problems being told I am worthy, that I am a good person, that people would fight to be my friend because I am such a kind and loyal person – I feel such a deep sense of being unworthy, being unlovable, that my first reaction is to reject those things automatically. But When I look at those reactions, I don’t know why I have them. I’ve never killed anyone, or sexually assaulted anyone; I’ve never enslaved anyone, or kidnapped someone. I have done nothing to deserve those feelings. So instead of feeling like I an unworthy of the things people say to me, that they must be saying them about someone they think I am, I need to try and accept them for what they are. I need to let myself feel those compliments.

Things will be difficult. Being vulnerable does mean we can leave ourselves open to all kinds of pain. There’s nothing that says being aware of myself and being compassionate to myself and being open to others means that the next girl I ask out will say yes. All it means is that being turned down like that won’t be the end of the world; it won’t be the universe pointing at me and saying “Ha! I told you so! Nobody will ever love you!”, but just one girl saying no to one request. The pain doesn’t go away. What it means is that I can accept the things others say, positive and negative, and take them in without always assuming and feeling and thinking the worst.  By embracing vulnerability, I am showing a kind of weakness, yes, but I am also showing strength, and that is worth so much more.

I’m still trying to maintain that openness. If you want to know something about me, just ask, and I’ll respond; I might do so privately as opposed to publicly, but I will tell you anything you want to know about me.