Balancing Act

“Zero plus 100 equals 100. But so does 50 plus 50, only with more balance.” -Jarod Kintz

Balance is such a tricky subject; even when we think we’ve got a handle on things, some extras invariably are thrown in to kink things up. Whether you’re talking about schedules, work/life, or work/fun, balance is integral to our well-being. Given our ever changing environment and our changing selves, we are constantly reassessing what we need and what needs to go.

Invariably there are times when things will be temporarily out of balance.  When we bring home a new baby, the house will not get cleaned, we will be behind on laundry, and we will eat frozen chicken nuggets for a few weeks until we can get a little bit more organized.  The same occurs when someone is sick, or we experience a death of a loved one, or another major life event happens.  Things are out of their homeostasis for a bit, and it feels off-kilter. 


The problem comes when we can’t get our footing back quickly or it is an ongoing issue.  Maybe our sick family member is chronically or terminally ill, or the baby we bring home has special needs that require a major lifestyle overhaul.  Maybe we live with a mood disorder that drains us more easily or we require more energy to care for ourselves.  Perhaps we are just plain busy- like most people- and that “one more thing” tips the scales in the unfavorable direction. Kids have to learn how to balance on one foot-they can’t just do it naturally. Similarly, we have to practice how to maintain the best balance we can psychologically.

Here are a few thoughts: 

If you truly feel that there is too much, try to eliminate or get some help with the workload. 
Easier said than done when it comes to single parents or primary caretakers of loved ones. But asking for help is crucial, whether it be from respite care, a paid caretaker, or a friend or family member. Even if there is something you are capable of doing, simply doing less can make a big difference. Paying someone to help with a few dinners, housecleaning, or dog walking can go a long way. If you can’t afford it, perhaps you can barter services. Pick up a neighbor’s groceries if you’re already going, and ask that they houseclean in exchange while you’re gone. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing less of what you don’t like that can help. 


Remember the things that comfort you. 
I love to organize, and I’m good at it. If I’m feeling bothered, sometimes just cleaning out a closet or sorting for a yard sale really helps me to feel productive and more in control of a chaotic environment. Remember the old standbys: alone time (or social time if that recharges you), a shower or soak in the tub, music, exercise, and eating well all make us feel good physically and mentally. Know yourself and what feels comforting to you, so you can have a list of things available. 


Don’t put on the pressure. 
Ever notice how a long string of negative thinking can really snowball? “Why am I feeling this way? Why did this happen? I just can’t exercise today. I should really journal” and on and on. Once the “shoulds” start, I know I’m in trouble! Pay attention to what is going through your mind and try to refocus. If you can’t exercise how you normally do, perhaps you can still be active but change what you’re doing. Something is better than nothing, and nothing can sometimes make us feel worse. 

Keep your appointments.
When the calendar gets full, we are tempted to cancel or postpone our appointments. Try to see when you can fit them in, especially if you think it’s a good idea to see your behavioral health provider. Sometimes the urge to avoid therapy comes when things are out of balance, and it’s good to reflect on this. Is it time for a new therapist, or are you too overwhelmed or tired to confront an issue? 


Take advantage of the apps and other technology. 
Find some apps that help to track your mood, or forums that you can visit online for support and education. If Facebook is upsetting or a negative influence, trim down your friends list, limit your time on it, or cancel your account altogether. I’ve been very impressed with the app Virtual Hope Box.

Check it out and see if it’s for you, and ask others what they have found useful.

This too shall pass. 
The only guarantee is that life will change. Whatever is happening now will end at some point. Try to see the good and enjoy what you can before things shift again. Remember that when we think something is negative, we see in hindsight a reason or a way of growth. It’s not comfortable, but it helps us become who we really are.


Laugh and celebrate your flaws.   
If you messed up, pat yourself on the back. You’re wonderfully and beautifully human, and you’re still here to talk about it. Don’t spend energy on your mistakes- once you apologize and try to rectify the situation, look forward. 


Balance takes work, it takes practice, and it takes flexibility to change and reassess. Moreover, it takes courage that may require some digging, but it’s in there. When we’re tired, the last thing we feel like doing is thinking more and trying to make changes, but the payoff is huge. Ask for help and realize things will not change overnight, but they will change-all because of you and your strength to take on your mental health.

Purpose

I love reading Glennon Doyle Melton and her blog, Momastery. This quote of hers from a recent post inspired me, especially as we head into a new calendar year:

“People always ask: G, how do I find my purpose?

I look at them and ask: What breaks your heart? There you go. That’s your purpose.”

Glennon’s take is that life is beautiful and brutal all at once, which she terms, “Brutiful.” I absolutely connect to this description, as I’ve always felt that the most difficult things are the most worthwhile. The things that allow our soul to positively burst with joy also seem to be the hardest (raising children come to mind, anyone?) This quote also makes me think about how we come to who we are, which never seems to be a linear progression and is full of bumps, bruises, and obstacles. But if we can remain rooted in ourselves in spite of this messy, sometimes haphazard journey, our purpose comes to light for us.

Sometimes our purpose is presented to us, and at other times, we seek and even fight for it. Others may tell us we can’t achieve; if that’s the case, we can find meaning in the failures. Often, our purpose may seem like a default path that is only slightly better than others, but we can embrace it and create within it what we find beautiful and true. There are times that we feel no logical reason to believe in someone, following a calling, or trust a process, until it unfolds clumsily before our eyes. And at others, we must carve a new meaning for ourselves and for those around us, and ignore all the noise of doubt and nonsense. We must listen to the voice of who we are, whether it shouts or whispers, because it is always there. We get busy and it’s easy to ignore it. Our roles change in life and we forget to listen and reassess. Depression and anxiety create doubt, negative thinking, and worry. Despite all of this, we must listen to what we know to be true.

Perhaps you’re a person who doesn’t believe everyone has a purpose. I believe if you’re reading this, you do. I believe that if you are here, your purpose is, too. Of course, you are free to disagree, but then I challenge you to think about Glennon’s question. Further, I ask you think of not only what breaks your heart, but what heals you? What comes to your mind when you imagine healing your heart? What comes to your mind when you think of caring for yourself?

As we close another year and look to the renewal of another, what will you do in 2016? I urge you, if nothing else, to think about your truth. Refuse to be a bystander in your own life, and do not fall into thinking that all things simply happen to you. Make things happen. Think. Create. Love. Allow yourself to stretch to every corner and love who you see. You’re a living, breathing, beautiful mess of a person, and there is a place and purpose for you. For all of us.

Take on your mental health, and advocate for someone else. Have a very spirited 2016. 

Funky Fall or Awesome Autumn?

“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.” -Mother Teresa

The change of seasons is a difficult time for many of us. In particular, fall is a natural time for endings as we wrap up the calendar year and let go of the warmth and the greenery of summer. Shorter days and colder weather pull us, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the holiday season which may or may not be a celebrated time. We feel so sensitive to the seasons because even in our contemporary age, we are part of nature. And nature is ever-changing, and we must change with it.

Remember, change is not a four letter word. Here are my tips for giving yourself the time and space to have an awesome autumn instead of a funky fall:

1. Adjust your expectations. 

If you’ve read my blog to any degree, you may have picked up on the fact that this is a big one for me. We have expectations for ourselves and our loved ones, whether it be for the future or for things in the past. Specifically, when we have unreasonable expectations, we set ourselves up to fall short. Keep your expectations fair and consider how you’re feeling.

2. Wake up at the same time every day. 

More important than going to bed at the same time, waking at the same time sets your body’s clock. It’s difficult during daylight savings time, as you may be naturally waking much earlier now. Use a fifteen minute rule for sleep-if you’re not sleeping within fifteen minutes, do something else. If you are waking earlier, try to go to bed earlier until you can reset your body.

3. Make time for mini self-assessments through the day. 

People often describe feelings as a snowball rolling down a mountain, and before long, it’s huge and you can’t remember how it started. Try to set an alarm periodically through the day and ask yourself how you’re doing. If you know you’re getting tired, anxious, short-tempered, etc., you may need to do something. Doing something can mean asking for support, using a positive coping skill, or simply informing your loved ones that you’re not feeling so great. This can not only avoid conflict in personal relationships but also keep you from being a snowball of emotions. You can use a five point scale, a color system, or whatever makes sense to you to identify your state of well-being.

4. Identify what works-and what doesn’t. 

When I’m tired, talking about my feelings irritates me, which I find sort of funny given my line of work. I love exercise but can’t always find time to do it. Having two practical lists of what works and what doesn’t is a great way to learn about yourself and be ready to act. It takes practice to figure out what works for you, but if you practice, it will become automatic.

5. Do nothing, for limited periods of time. 

Soon after the “fall back” of daylight savings, I feel like I’m walking through sand and expending a lot of energy but not going anywhere fast. Sometimes we need to stop and do nothing and allow our bodies and minds to rest before we can get back to our responsibilities. This is not only okay, but necessary. And…

6. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. 

Why do I feel this way? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get up early and get this stuff done? Why am I so tired? Why am I not over this by now? Why can’t I be more ______? Why do these things happen to me? If these sort of sentences sound familiar, you’re not alone. The problem is, when we speak to ourselves this way, we not only hard-wire our minds to think these things, but we compound emotions on top of emotions.

Practice speaking to yourself with love, understanding, and kindness. Allow yourself the room to either stretch your wings, or curl up into a ball. You always know what you need, and can act from a place of confidence and know that like all things of nature, you will ebb and flow. Simply love, and know that there is nothing wrong. In fact, everything is exactly what and who it is supposed to be. Including you.

Choose to have an Awesome Autumn, and take on your mental health.

Questions For A Potential Therapist

If you’re thinking about starting therapy, consider interviewing a few therapists and asking some thoughtful questions. While this list is in no way exhaustive, I find these to be the most productive things to ask a potential therapist. Based on your personality, clinical needs, and treatment goals, getting some answers up front may save you some much needed time. Here are my top eight of what to ask at the initial appointment, or over the phone if time allows.

What is your experience working with X population/disorder/situation? 

This is my favorite question. It’s absolutely fair to ask how much the person has been exposed to similar situations that you’re in or with a certain diagnosis. The answer will tell you two things: a) what their experience actually is, and b) their interpretation of your situation. I find the answer to option B most interesting, since what you really want to know is if they’re hearing you and their initial analysis gels with your own assessment and understanding.

What is your theoretical orientation? 

Many people exposed to mental health in some way are becoming more familiar with these terms: CBT, DBT, mindfulness, exposure and response prevention, and PTSD, just to name a few. I’m happy that these are becoming more mainstream, and we therapists definitely have our favorites. It is well worth your time to ask what a therapist is knowledgeable about; some have certifications or specialties that are very valuable. Many general practitioners use a variety of techniques borrowed from many theories, and I find this helps to individualize care based on needs and personality. The most important thing is to hear whether or not your therapist is willing and able to use other perspectives that may be the best fit for you, even if it’s not their most commonly used approach. 

How directive are you during sessions? 

If feedback is important to you, this question matters. Are sessions discussion based, or is the therapist mostly reflective and quiet? Different types of therapy require different levels of involvement, and so how talkative your therapist is will impact you greatly. You can phrase this as “give and take” or whether someone is interested in “problem-solving”, but find out how much participation from this person you can reasonably expect.


How structured are you with a certain amount of weeks in treatment, or are you flexible with coming as needed? 

I know therapists who ask new clients to commit to a certain number of sessions before reevaluating their goals and progress, and I know others who are open to a person coming and going as life requires them to get more support. I find value in both approaches, but you may want to know before beginning with someone how they prefer to operate. Keep in mind, however, that you are going to need to work in and out of the office to practice your new skills, and attending therapy more often (especially in the beginning) is usually the best way to build a relationship with your therapist, and progress towards your goals.

Are you ever willing to meet with my spouse/child/parent/friend? 

This comes up frequently in treatment, since may clients have friends or family that wish to attend sessions from time to time in order to better understand and assist their loved one. Finding out if your therapist is willing to do this ahead of time can be very helpful. Understand that this is very different from family therapy or marital therapy, where there would be treatment goals for two or more individuals together. Having a loved one attend a session does not change your own treatment goals, but focuses that session on how that person can help you, what you might need to tell them, or involve recommendations from the therapist on how to manage a mood disorder within a relationship, to name a few examples.

Are you willing to coordinate with my doctor/school/employee assistance program?

If this is something you think would be helpful, ask. Different therapists are willing to have different levels of involvement with other professionals, and it’s much better to know at the beginning of treatment. Discuss the pros and cons of your therapist talking with other providers for a more collaborative care approach.

How do you handle crisis calls or contacts after hours? 

What are the hours the person is available by phone? Can you email or text? Who do you contact to schedule an appointment, and what are the policies for crisis calls? Practitioners have many ways of managing these issues, and knowing ahead of time what parameters they have is critical for you. For example, I specify to clients that I will not “friend’ them on Facebook, which is my own personal level of comfort, but others may do otherwise. All of these issues fall under the scope of office policies that you have a right to learn about.

What topics do you find yourself studying the most for your continuing education hours? 

How many hours a clinician needs every license period varies by state and education, but most often the choice of how to obtain those hours are up to the individual. I think it’s helpful to know what a therapist spends his or her time learning about, and if it correlates to why you’re attending treatment. The therapist may not hold a certificate in cognitive behavioral therapy, but if she’s spent 36 of the last 45 credit hours studying it, and that’s what you’re looking for, it may be a good fit. 

Other questions- things such as where the clinician attended school, with whom they may have trained, or where they have worked may not be as paramount to your success in therapy. In no way am I knocking my numerous colleagues that attended prestigious institutions or have impressive resumes, but I’m not convinced these are a prerequisite to being a skilled clinician. I believe what matters most is the relationship you can build with this person, how open you can be when you talk with him or her, and how much you feel you can partner together to accomplish your goals.

Ask yourself this very important question: Imagine your absolute worst and lowest time- can you picture reaching out to this therapist in that moment? If the answer is no, ask yourself why. Is it time to continue interviewing other providers?

Take on your mental health. A good therapist can handle any question you throw their way, so get talking, and ask away. It’s our job to give you the information you need to reach your goals. 

Those Pesky Feelings

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” -Dale Carnegie

I enjoy a contemplative, logical thought process of making decisions. It’s my default setting. I feel uncomfortable with emotional decisions that are made quickly without having time to weigh the pros and cons. Because I tend to think this way, those pesky emotions really get in my way sometimes.

“Jeez, and this is a therapist talking! Why am I reading this?” I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you felt this way, but if you’ll stick with me, I hope to explain.

We are always rushing. We rush ourselves, we rush our kids, we rush our clients to make progress, talk about things, and meet their goals. We are rushing simply to get to the next thing that we can rush through. We hurry to look productive for our boss and we rush to feel like we got through the never ending to-do list. And we rush when we make decisions and when we react to things, especially when there is emotion involved. Emotions, especially those of anger, hurt, or anxiety, want us to respond so we can feel better, not necessarily to make a sound decision. Just like popping a balloon, the emotion may dissipate, but that doesn’t mean we made the best choice.

In an earlier post, I alluded to once almost giving into the emotional decision of buying a minivan. We found out about a major car repair and panicked- that’s all it was. I’m so glad we waited, because we really didn’t need to do anything other than fix the car that we already owned. I remind myself of that situation frequently, because for me, it’s not the time to act. It’s a time to sift through the emotions and make a practical, logical choice.

As therapists, I sometimes think we haven’t done a great job with how we talk about emotions. Everything doesn’t have to mean something. Sometimes they do, and we honor those in order to care for our emotional well-being. But some of it is just static. It’s simply noise getting in the way of us thinking clearly. For some, it’s the distorted voice of depression or anxiety making things more difficult. It may take longer because you can’t rush through it, and with a mood disorder, it requires more effort and skill. Society tells us it’s not okay to take our time, but I’m here to tell you that it is.

Don’t rush. Ask yourself if this is something that you really need to figure out emotionally, or are you ready to make a choice? Make sure you have solid footing. Your feelings may still be floating all around you, and only you know if you can see through them or not. Don’t make a blind choice, and make sure you can see through the feelings fog before you act.

Sometimes hindsight-feelings aside-is all that’s required to see you made the best choice. 

Mirror, Mirror

What if you woke up tomorrow and didn’t recognize yourself in the mirror? What if someone told you that some of your reality isn’t true, only you have to figure out which parts are real and which aren’t? What if you lived each day sometimes feeling like yourself, but other times this unexpected, paralyzing wave washed over you, unpredictably and inexplicably? What if you felt you could no longer trust your voice, your thoughts, or your feelings? What if your every decision hinged on taking into account this demon, from your sleep schedule to your job to having a baby to where you go to just how much you can mange? What if you lost yourself and didn’t know how to figure it out, when it would end, who could help you, or who might understand?

About two months ago, I asked my Facebook friends to comment on what mental illness feels like for them. My Facebook friends are not clients of mine and never have been. They are my family, they are colleagues, and they are friends I’ve known all my life. In short, they are the people that I love. And they have been touched by mental health, and they are willing to speak out. You won’t know their names, but this is what they have to say. The bold-faced quotes are the voices of my contributors.

On stigma and feeling alone:

“Mental health is hiding who I really am.  People don’t understand. People don’t care to understand.”

” It means I have to be stronger than I feel, so many days of my life.”

“It feels like even after all this time, I don’t always know myself and that feels so scary.” 

“I can say for myself – the stigma attached to mental health is heartbreaking because it’s not ‘visible.'”

On loving someone with a mental illness:
 
“I hate feeling like I can’t always help them and I feel guilty for feeling so frustrated.”

“When you realize someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness you experience both relief for finding a reason for their actions and sadness all at the same time. You know it is possible for them to feel better at some point with treatment, but you wish you had known how to help them sooner. You also know it is going to be a long road of ups and downs that require patience.”

On facing obstacles:

“… a reminder that something in my past, something so profound, has shook me to the core of who I am and has altered the person I am and worse, the person I could have become.”  

And on recovery:

“I’ve learned that I’m no longer going to hide my issues because so many people have a mental health issue in some way or another.”

“I’ve been more honest with people about my condition because just because I may have these “issues”, it doesn’t mean that I’m contagious, can’t function, can’t love or do anything that people consider ‘normal’.”

“It has taken some time, and sometimes the scale still tips a bit far to one side, but I have learned how to better balance wellness and productivity.”


“My mental health issues will never go away. I will never be healed. There is no cure. But there is always my choice to live life the way I want to and I sure as hell am going to choose to live a good one.”

Mental illness is invisible, misunderstood, stigmatized, and terrifying. Most importantly, it’s no one’s fault. I want everyone to understand not only what research and textbooks tell us, but what it feels like to experience and witness. I want all of us to fight it and win. I want to win with effective treatments, proper and accessible medical care, and most importantly, with ending stigma.

People can’t choose their brain chemistry any more than they can pick their eye color. With proper treatment, we know brain chemistry can change. Be a voice of encouragement, be understanding and educated, and be a friend.

You can be smarter than the stigma.

Clean Out

I recently uninstalled Facebook from my phone. As much as I value my connection to friends online, I realized I don’t want to be tied to it twenty-four hours a day. Checking it once or twice per day is sufficient for me to maintain my friendships and read news or articles of interest, and prohibits my attention being divided throughout my day.

It’s going along with some reorganizing and simplifying that I’m doing at the moment- physically and mentally. Some things are getting donated, given to friends, or sold. For me, this process is completely tied to how I feel emotionally. It gives me a clear mind to think, refocus, and reconnect with the people and things that are important to me and my well-being. It feels like a complete shift of perspective, which we all need at times to flourish.

What can you eliminate? It can be physical, emotional, or mental. Perhaps you realize you have some distorted thought patterns that are counterproductive to your recovery. Maybe a thought pattern or list of thoughts is making it difficult to process an event, situation, or relationship. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut without noticing, and it requires a conscious choice to let it go. Sometimes, we all need a Clean Out. Clean out space, clean up our thoughts, clean through our emotions. Stay current and try to let old things go. Check all your emotional baggage from the past. If you need it at a later time, you can easily recall it- but there’s no need to walk around with it every day. It’s the difference between a checked bag and a carry on; it all belongs to you, if you choose. Our brains can easily get cluttered just like our living spaces, and we need to take some time to clear them out.

Take notice of the way you talk to yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts. Are you being kind and forgiving, or harsh and critical? You have a choice, each and every day, to be your own caring and compassionate best friend and biggest ally. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself, and don’t expect something unrealistic from your personality or something outside your goals. Clear the clutter from your physical space as well as your mind. Know when you need to recuperate and be open minded about trying different strategies. Check all your past emotional baggage. Instead of remembering how someone hurt you, for example, do I what I call “bottom line” it. Bottom line it down to the big picture- “I can’t talk to this person about politics, but they’re a good friend otherwise and we have fun” and leave it at that. Clear the clutter, the extras, and the unhelpful.

Take notice of what may be superfluous or counterproductive within your mind and your physical space.  You risk nothing by trying, and the benefits are many- focus, clarity, and freedom.

The Beginning

Every place has a beginning.  Sometimes we don’t always see it, and we focus on trying to find all the middle parts and even what the end will be, but we forget about where we started. It’s useful to think of the starting point in order to remember how far we’ve come, because we’re not terribly great at seeing that. We need to see how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned, so we know what doesn’t work.
Yes, you read that correctly. What doesn’t work for you? So often therapists ask their clients what works for them to feel better, while clients experiment and study what will help during a mood episode or that of a loved one. Why don’t we start with asking what doesn’t work? Most of the time, that’s easier to pinpoint, at least early in recovery. We know that giving into compulsions only work for a period of time before anxiety surges again, and we know we met with a therapist we definitely did not care for, and we know that there are several medications we’ve tried that were ineffective or made us feel worse. We know so much already, if only we flip things around and look at what we can already discard. You are smarter and stronger today than you were yesterday, if only you can see what you can cross off the list.
Don’t allow a distorted view to tell you that you don’t know yourself or what you need in your recovery. Sometimes, it’s knowing what you don’t know, and knowing what won’t help you that is the perfect place to begin. Yes, there is a place for the professional to guide you- but we rely on you. We heavily depend on you answering our questions, making observations, and thinking things over right along with us. We couldn’t do it without you. Refuse to see the deficit and see what you already know, because it’s more than you think.
So often we only see the road ahead, and the mountain that we must climb. I argue the mountain ahead is easier, because you know more now than ever. It is easier than what is behind you, because you are stronger today. You are stronger now than you were this morning. It will come when you need it as long as you keep going, and no one can travel your journey better than you. 

You Can’t Reseal A Banana

Lately, my youngest child has been really frustrated with eating bananas.

He’s always loved bananas, so it’s confusing. He asks for a banana, and seems to want to eat it, but once it’s peeled, he becomes very upset. He cries, he screams, and he furiously tries to reattach the peel. He puts it all back together and holds it at the top, as if somehow keeping it in his tight little fist will reseal it. He holds it up to me like a trophy of aggravation while he screams for me to help him. 

While this makes him a pretty neurotypical two year-old, it got me thinking. How many times do we figuratively try to put a banana back together? Take back words that were said, worry about our future, obsess about our past, about mistakes we made or things that were done to us? Anxiety and depression are nagging voices in our minds that try to keep our minds anywhere but the present moment. Anxiety and depression enjoy watching us spin our wheels with frustration and misery.

I’ve heard people say that depression is sadness about the past, and anxiety is worry of the future. To some extent, I agree with this, and further, it’s mostly out of our hands. We can’t help how we feel, and even if there are tangible things that are contributing to our mood, they may or may not be things we can or even want to change. And how do we even know if we should change them, or if we just see it that way because we’re depressed? It’s very hard to tease out.

My son is learning about cause and effect, and the consequences of his choices. Similarly, we can learn from our past. Let’s all agree that we can forgive ourselves our mistakes, forgive others who have wronged us, and not worry about what is to come. Instead, let’s try to keep our minds in this day, and this moment. Do not allow depression to drag your mind backward, and instead focus on what you can do right now that might help. If you think the answer is “nothing”- try it. Try anything that is healthy, healing, and does not bring you harm. Be open to the possibility that while you can’t put the banana peel back together, you still have choices right now regardless of the past. Despite what depression will tell you, mistakes do not make you less of a person- they make you a whole one. You are still in control of your behaviors and your plan from this moment forward. We know that how we think about things can help or hurt our mood, and our behaviors can follow. Our bodies will follow our minds, whether or not we realize it.

My son might just need a little more time to be mad before he decides to do anything differently, and I can’t fault him for that. We all get there in our own time, and he will learn about his choices just like the rest of us. Make sure you’re learning something that’s fair and kind- not what depression and anxiety try to say. Do not let them convince you that you are not whole, because you are. 

Broken Pieces

“There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” -Dr. Suess

I recently broke our computer.

It’s our only computer. It started out with me unintentionally bumping it that caused a tiny crack in the screen, which has become a bigger and bigger spider-looking version of itself spreading through the left half of my visual field. We talked briefly about fixing it, but due to the cost we are instead attempting to ignore it.

After a few days of “ignoring it”, I realized it’s pretty tough. It’s reminding me of the old psychology exercise instructing the listener, “do not think about a pink elephant” when of course, a pink elephant is the first thing that pops into my mind.When it comes to thought suppression, we as humans aren’t equipped to do this consistently and for long periods of time. Now, if there’s no reminder of a pink elephant, we can go long periods without it coming across our brain, much like I didn’t give much thought to a nice, clean, smooth computer screen before it was cracked. But if the reminder is there, it’s pretty tiring, as anyone with OCD can tell you. Sometimes called “thought stopping”, this technique may work for some and typically requires replacing it with another thought or activity, and lots and lots of practice.

We train ourselves with therapy to become aware of our thoughts, our symptoms, our behaviors, and our relationships. We bring certain things to our minds and we want them floating on the radar, so we know how we’re doing, what to tell our therapist, and what to figure out next. We want to feel like I’m feeling, which is that I think I have this big spider looking shape memorized because all I can do is look at it. That, to some extent, makes us feel like we’re doing a good job with paying attention to ourselves, our environment, and our mood. But there can be too much of a good thing. Personally, I worry that if I hyperfocus on this input too much and for too long, what am I missing on the rest of the screen?

My answer lies with balance. It takes practice building some muscle behind it, so you can flex it well. It takes being able to say, “there’s that crack in the screen, right over where I need to read right now” and choosing to zoom out and refocus my eyes. If I only focus on this crack in my screen, it will drive me nuts. But if I pretend it’s not there altogether (which is pretty impossible), I lose my insight, my vision, and my big picture. The answer- at least for me, with most situations-lies somewhere in between. A space to acknowledge how annoying it is, how it’s in my way, how I wish it wasn’t there, and it never happened, and a choice to peacefully coexist if acceptance isn’t possible at the moment. 

Our inventory of symptoms, our mood charts, our sleep cycles, our relationships, all of it- are all very important, but there is also the big picture of your life and who you are aside from a diagnosis. Aside from a list in a book, aside from what a doctor might say, there is YOU. The rest of the screen is there, and you can see all of it and parts of it at exactly the same time. A diagnosis is encapsuled within the very courageous, very beautiful, very multifaceted you. We can think of all of you and pieces of you at the same time, so do not allow yourself to be defined by a word.

For now, the computer will stay this way. I really like the way I think about it now.