Gratitude 2: Electric Boogaloo

I have been having some difficulty lately coming up with blog topics. It has seemed, to me at least, that sometimes what I am writing about it stuff I have already covered. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I do have well over 100 posts here, so it can be a bit of a hassle reading through all of them. It occurs to me, though, that repetition isn’t a bad thing, especially if it is something that could be helpful to both me and readers.

Thus, I am tempted to try and attempt the gratitude challenge again. It is, admittedly, a good way to cover three weeks worth of blog posts, but when I did it the first time around, despite it sounding a bit cheesy, I found it to actually be sort of helpful in improving my mood and general attitude, and there are some habits I picked up then that I have started to slack off on lately. For those of you who don’t remember, the guidelines were as follows – the challenge lasts for 21 days, and works according to several simple rules:

1.Write down three new things you are grateful for each day, in a journal or somewhere else easily accessed. Be specific.

2. Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours.

3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day.

4. Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.

5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a friend, family member, or other person you are grateful to.

After 21 days, the idea is that you (well, I, for blog purposes, though you as well if you take the challenge up yourself) will start to adopt these sorts of habits in your everyday life, and start being a little more positive. This is based on a TED Talk by a man named Shawn Achor, whose TED Talk can be found below:

I am thinking of adding in a twist, possibly doing this alongside my friend who has just gone into Menninger, but I am waiting to hear back on that. So I will wait to start until I know more, but I thought it might be something to mention in case I start another run of the challenge.

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.

Gratitude

Sometimes I feel like I’m not very grateful for the things I have. There are a lot of very important people, things, and actions in my life, and I don’t acknowledge that often enough. It feels like, especially here on this blog, that I spend a lot of time talking about negative things in my life, or things I need to fix. But sometimes it is just nice to try to think positively – nice, but not easy. A while ago in groups, we watched a TED Talk by a man named Shawn Achor, and he talked about a challenge to be grateful for a period of time – long enough to work on rearranging the way we think to be a little more positive in everyday life.

This, my friends, is the 21-day gratitude challenge. And I think I am going to take a crack at it, starting today. I’ll post my thoughts and results for today in this entry, but write the rest elsewhere unless people want to read them every day as an addendum to my regular blog. The rules are as follows:

1.Write down three new things you are grateful for each day, in a journal or somewhere else easily accessed. Be specific.

2. Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours.

3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day.

4. Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.

5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a friend, family member, or other person you are grateful to.

Today, I am grateful for my ability to share my thoughts and feelings in this blog; I am grateful for being able to read the Dark Heresy RPG book; and I am grateful for the DBSA group I attend on Tuesdays.

Yesterday, we had a going-away video game party at our apartment for one of my roommates who is leaving on Monday; while it wasn’t very well attended, it was fun being able to hang around and play video games with my roommate, a staff member, and the other person who showed up. Well, for some of it I just contributed my witty commentary, but I did get a chance to take part with my leet Rock Band skillz, on the guitar on Easy and the microphone on Expert. Rock Band is one of the things I’ll be glad to be bringing with me to my apartment when I move out, because it seems to be a great way to get people to come over and hang out – I just hope my prospective apartment-mate doesn’t mind.

I spent half an hour swimming earlier, even in the rain, and the meditation was relatively easy, though I got a bit carried away and went for 5 minutes instead of 2 – not much of a sense of time while focusing on breathing, I guess. And I wrote an e-mail of gratitude of thanks to a friend earlier; I haven’t sent it yet, but hopefully I will in the near future.

That covers the five parts of the challenge for today; I hope I can keep it up for all 21 days. Oh, and if you’re interested, you can view Shawn Achor’s TED Talk, The Wisdom of Play, here.