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Paramedic Nat

A Blog About My Mental Health Journey

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Selfish? or Self-care?

selfish

Selfish; a word which has evoked so many emotions in my life. Emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, shame and most often confusion. I was told I was selfish a lot as a kid. Depending on the day, and the mood of the house, I have been told I was selfish when I wanted to show my achievements in school, such as my report card. I was told I was selfish when I needed a break from all of the responsibilities in my life. I was often told I was selfish whenever I wanted to better myself…and I didn’t understand why. This confusing emotion kept me questioning my own personal-growth motives for years. If I was told I was selfish for so long, I must be, right?

While moving through my 12-step program, I have come to realize how much my misconception of the word selfish has affected me. Deep down I knew that the word should be linked to a negative action, and not to taking care of myself. But because my feelings surrounding this word were so volatile and confusing, I moved through life on my tippy-toes, careful not to be selfish in anyone’s eyes ever again. I learned through trial and error who I could share my accomplishments with and who would be proud of me. For example, I learned months after I ‘lost’ my college report card that my brother Ross had had it in his wallet all along, and had been showing it to his friends because he was so proud of me. I learned that my colleagues were genuinely happy with my career advancements and didn’t see me as selfish at all. I learned that my kids were so proud of me when I walked across the stage and accepted my Advanced Care Paramedic Diploma, and when they both helped me press ‘enter’ to send the last research paper I had written to Victoria University in order to obtain my BHSc degree. But all of these examples of love and pride in my achievements still couldn’t erase my misconception of the word selfish. In fact, any personal accomplishment left me feeling that ‘selfish’ just masqueraded as pride.

The shame-based messages I received growing up also affected my ability to set healthy boundaries. I would often ‘go with the flow’ and not voice my personal opinion for fear that it would appear selfish or hurt someone’s feelings. In a crowd, I never ‘rocked the boat’. I wanted to be honest and direct with people, but outside of work the line between selfishness and self-care was as clear as a puddle of mud. I had confidence in my skills at work and knew my roll and responsibilities well, so I rarely had a problem saying what I needed to there. But in my personal life, if someone seemed to be helping me, I went with it, because I was too afraid of them leaving or appearing selfish if I questioned any of their motives.

Through this amazing journey, and more specifically through completing Step’s 4&5 (completing and sharing my moral inventory) I have come to learn the unselfish importance of self-care. Doing what is best for me, regardless of anyone else’s opinion is what I should do! Who knew?! I don’t need to justify my choices to anyone, and I definitely don’t need to feel selfish for developing boundaries I need for my recovery. My recovery is number 1! I’m so grateful for every time my sponsor corrected me during my 5th step when I thought a resentment I had stemmed from some root of my selfishness. She reminded me throughout my steps that what I was finally doing was self-care!…and she also reminded me how far I’ve come with this!

After completing my moral inventory, in the interest of self-care, I stopped drinking the poison of resentment. And I again wished anyone who had hurt me, wellness and happiness…genuinely. I’m a different person than I was 8 months ago. And this new person deserves every ounce of love and care I can receive. My greatest accomplishment has been my recovery! And as you can see, I don’t tippy-toe around about that. I’ve been shouting out my accomplishments in this blog and will continue to do so for who knows how long?

It’s not to say that I never received the encouragement or praise a child needs while growing up. Just like most parents, mine did the very best they could with the tools they had. Love was there, but so was struggle and words which were mindlessly spoken…I am guilty of the same. But moving forward I am all too happy to express my knowledge of the difference between selfishness and self-care in hope that someone out there afraid to set healthy boundaries may do so, and feel the freedom of smiling whenever they want to.

Happiness and Possibility

Happiness

Happiness to many is a very simple emotion to grasp. You want it. It feels good. You get it. Right? Well, it’s not that way for everyone. Crazy as this may sound, happiness can also be a very scary emotion for some people. But why? Why is it easier for many of us to stay content with emotions that block happiness? Why are we often more comfortable having emotions like anger sewn into the fabric of our personalities? It certainly doesn’t feel good to be angry. But at the end of the day, when it’s all we’ve ever worn, it feels…comfortable.

I think many people are afraid of things that feel different…even if that ‘thing’ is suppose to feel good. I bring up this topic because at times I notice that when I am not mindful, happiness seems to hide in a corner, even completely separate from my depression and anxiety. After all of the healing I’ve done, I at times find myself subconsciously content with an undertone of anger in my gut. It’s like an old friend who shows up unexpectedly, convincing me that I should let them in. I’m comfortable with that friend…we’ve been together for a very long time. So I sit all ‘cuddled-up’ with my friend ‘anger’ and let it slowly convince me why my dreams are impossible to fulfill, or that I don’t deserve to be happy. It can convince me that happiness just isn’t my forte. In fact, lots of negative emotions can and will convince me that answered prayers or granted wishes only lead to responsibility…and who wants that?

Equally threatening can be the concept of possibility. Many of us don’t like not knowing what ‘possibilities’ may lead to? In fact, we often lock possibility’s proverbial ‘open door’ before we even take a look outside. We shy away from a road which may lead to fulfilled dreams and joy because the road is so unfamiliar. When the saying, “the possibilities are endless!”, falls upon the ears of a happy person it’s like, well…music to their ears. But when those four words land on angry ears, the promise of anything ‘endless’ can be far too intimidating.

If your dreams were scheduled to come true tomorrow, would you say you’re ready for that? Or when the time came to act upon your dreams, would you rather retract the dream for fear of the unknown? Finish this sentence; I’m afraid that if I start dreaming…  What is your answer? And if you do have this fear, how can you overcome it? I personally think that a lot of our fear of happiness and possibilities comes from the fact that in order to truly appreciate them, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take the happiness of ‘love’ for example. It takes courage to love. The emotional stakes are high when the possibilities of the heart are exposed. When we are in love, it’s like our hearts are beating behind a cellophane wall…so easy to see, and so easy to break. Therefore, rather than possibly experiencing the magical happiness that only love can provide, we hide behind our armour of anger, which in turn protects our hearts from damage…or does it?

Will I always have a difficult time clearing my mind from my cunning ‘friend’ anger? Or will I continue to feel the peace possible if I practice mindfulness enough? I hope for the latter. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that this girl is ready for her happiness to continue to grow each day. I’m good with making vulnerability my new ‘friend’, and seeing where the possibilities of this journey continue to take me.

Mind-Medicine

spirit-mind

Do you have any ‘jerks’ in your life? You know, those people who get under your skin, who you’re convinced are in your life to make you miserable? That guy or girl whose voice you compare to nails down a chalkboard! That person who just keeps testing your desire to punch them in the jugular! If you say ‘no’, I call bull-$h!+. Heck, I bet you can name 5 just off the top of your head! (I know you’re doing it right now). Now, what if I told you that everything you believe to be annoying and unbearable about that person is actually an illusion? What if I told you that every person, place or thing we encounter is a projection of our mind, and often a cocktail of delusions? Futhermore, what if I told you that that jerk is actually not even separate from you? That YOU are in essence that jerk yourself! Mind blown? …well maybe more like mind puzzled. Allow me to explain further. Enter the Buddhist teaching my sister-in-law participated in this month.

First let me preface this blog with the clear message that I am in no way even close to being a Buddhist teacher! (Ha, ha…that even made me laugh!) I am simply a girl who enjoys writing about topics which are fascinating to me, and a girl who likes to now challenge ‘the mind’ (mine and yours) because I am on an exciting healthy mind exploration of sortsAfter being trapped like a prisoner in a mind that fooled me into thinking that any enlightenment was purely out of my reach, I now can’t get enough of this ‘mind-medicine’! And all I want to do is share it with anyone who will listen.

Alright, so…the Natalie version/translation of this month’s teaching goes like this: To put it simply, most of our focus in life is fu@k3d up! (Shout-out to my sister-in-law for that line!). We perceive ourselves as unique and completely independent people, with our unique and for the most part, automatic, perceptions of the world and people around us…but we’re not. When that ‘jerk’ cuts us off on the highway, we don’t see ourselves as a reflection of him at all, so we give him the finger and let anger out which we feel is totally justified, only to go about the rest of our morning annoyed, and possibly even furious. How dare HE ruin your day? Right?…

Well, here’s what I’ve learned this month about how perceiving that jerk as separate from you or I, is very much an illusion. That ‘jerk’ is actually an interdependent being on this planet … in short- we actually aren’t separate at all. The Buddhist teacher explained this idea deeper by challenging us to find something, anything, that does not come from another being on this planet. Everything from my clothes, to my body, is the result of other beings. My car, my house, my dog, are ALL in my life as a result of other being’s efforts and thoughts. Without other beings, you and I wouldn’t exist! We are actually all one. Therefore, when I hurt you, I am also hurting myself. But equally as so, when I love you, I am also loving myself. In the most simplest of terms, we are all interdependent with one another. So that jerk isn’t so separate from you after all.

The teaching also goes on to explain that the negative feelings you or I project on this jerk, are actually an illusion, and controlled by what Budda calls our mind’s ‘delusions’. Every feeling we have is created by our mind. Without thinking that that person is a jerk, they aren’t a jerk at all. Budda says that all negative feelings are delusions, and in being such, can be removed from our repertoire of feelings, leaving only loving ones remaining. TOTALLY easier said that done! Why? Well we as a society have made living with delusions the norm. Media, government and almost all aspects of human-nature, have made negative delusions common-place. We’ve been taught that we must fight at other people’s expense for status, material things and ironically, happiness. But if we were only able to see that fighting with others is actually fighting with ourselves, there would no longer be any pain in the world. (Are you still with me?) Furthermore, if we were able to see that the jerk is actually a spiritual teacher for us, illuminating which negative delusions we need to work on absolving, rather than looking at him like a retched nuisance in our day, we may not feel the need to get angry at the next person who cuts us off (because you know it will happen again), hence making any future mornings anything but miserable at all.

Sigh…ok, that’s a lot of heavy stuff to even try to absorb! But how about we play a game? Call it your ‘halt-illusions homework’. Try to be mindful of the ‘jerks’ who push your buttons tomorrow. For example, the guy who orders 5 bagels, 6 sandwiches and 13 coffees in front of you at the drive-thru window, or the girl who is popping her gum loudly behind you at the check-out line, or, heaven forbid!…the person who leaves their shopping-cart in the middle of the aisle like they have valet parking privileges, and TRY not to look at them as jerks, but as opportunities for your happiness to grow by tossing the negative delusion from your mind, and replacing it with a grateful thought of your choice. The key to being able to do this homework is to be mindful of when the jerks appear. It’s not going to be easy, and I know several of you who are laughing at this idea (you know who you are!) knowing full well that I usually had more jerks in a day than anyone else! This is true…so if I can do it, so can anybody else. This busy life is filled with so many negative emotions, removing even one of them may be the medicine we need.

In short, the Buddhist teacher taught us that WE are the masters of our own minds. WE choose what we see and how we react to it. WE are responsible for allowing someone to upset us, or for allowing someone to love us. And WE are here on earth as ONE spectacular, ever changing and growing being.

Shedding The Armour on Our Hearts

As I grow along this journey of enlightenment in which I’ve clumsily stumbled upon, I continue to possess this deep desire to continue sharing with you. I liken the desire to how I felt as a child when it was show-and-tell day…do you remember that feeling? Excited and nervous…not knowing exactly what to say so that everyone watching ‘gets’ how important the object is to you. Sad when time ran out and your turn got postponed to the next-day because you just couldn’t wait to share. So connected to the belief that once you shared, others would ‘feel’ the same level of appreciation as you did for the object. And also proud when someone came up to you afterwards and expressed how much they liked the object too. Well that’s how felt anyway 🙂 Ok, moving along, I would like to attempt to ‘show’ and ‘tell’ you about the importance of acceptance, and how I am learning about its healing qualities in a forum I am grateful to have been exposed to.

A few mornings ago, my sister-in-law and I bundled ourselves up on a damp, dreary day (coffee in hand) and excitedly travelled to a yoga studio about 30 mins away from home for a seminar on ‘taking and giving’ delivered by a brilliant Buddhist teacher. As mentioned in a previous blog, we have become quite fascinated by these mindful teachings and can’t seem to get enough of them. When we arrived, we nestled in for the 3 hour class, which included 3 guided meditations, and proceeded to open our minds to enlightened possibilities.

During the beginning portion of the class we were introduced to acceptance which reminded me of the ‘distress tolerance’ I have learned in save my life grad school, but on a much more vast and spiritual level. Early on I could feel myself get nervous when we were encouraged to meditate on a recent upsetting emotion and rather than closing our minds and hearts to it, like so many of us do as a human reflex to limit or even completely avoid pain, we were to open our minds and hearts and allow it in. SUCH a foreign idea to me less than a year ago! So I went all in and did my very best to recall the feeling I felt when Ian moved out. It was a scary task because I’ve done a really good job to date moving on from this emotion, so feeling it again was extremely uncomfortable. Through the meditation we were guided to slowly shed the armour on our hearts heavy piece by piece, and let the emotion move in. Once we welcomed it in, we were reminded that we could still survive without any cold and uncomfortable protection on our fragile hearts. Who knew? We then imagined the emotion flowing through us, and moving on into the universe in which it came from. How interesting to see that we didn’t need to keep it in our hearts forever.

Moving on through the afternoon, we were taught how ALL painful human emotions are universal. We ALL feel guilt, sadness, fear etc, at some point in our lives. And not only do we block many of these painful emotions from ourselves, our egos also contain them so tightly behind our armoured heart that even the human beings closest to us (who could help and support us) have no idea of the pain we are experiencing. We don’t want to admit that we may be depressed, or sad, because so much of western society has taught us that these emotions equal weakness.  So we lock-up our hearts and throw away the key…sometimes forever…and how tragic is that?

The teacher shared how giving any emotion permission to exist as it does, moves our minds away from constrictive ‘protection’, to an open acceptance which can lead to peace…if we allow it to. What a mind-blowing concept. But to me it makes sense! For example, take the emotion guilt…a relatively common emotion which can bring about immense personal pain; unless you’re a sociopath, we’ve all felt it. Personally, this emotion makes me feel ashamed, and for lack of a better word, gross; not a sensation I would choose to have and experience. But none-the-less it exists and has consumed me for years because I buried it so tightly in my heart. It was never something I wanted to talk about because it made me feel weak. But according to the teacher, if I would have accepted the presence of this emotion, dealt with it rather than hiding it, and let it move on, I would have been free from it a lot more quickly. I thought hiding it took strength, but accepting it was actually the strong knock-out left-hook.

Acceptance of our emotions doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with the events they result from. For example, if we are in an abusive relationship it’s not ok to stay and ‘accept’ the abuse. But regardless of where they originated from, our emotions are delivering us powerful messages filled with the possibility of self-growth and inner-peace.

Maybe try to remove one layer of your armour today? See where it takes you and what it teaches you. Maybe try to accept that whatever you find shielded inside your heart is a universal emotion…and that no matter what you tell yourself, you are NOT alone in feeling it.

Tornado Warning In Effect

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before (as this is my 79th blog!… topics are starting to blend together on me) but I have had tornado dreams all my life. These dreams would always involve me seeing a tornado in the distance approaching family members or friends. I would yell to warn them, but no one would listen; kids would keep playing in the yard, adults would just keep walking around. I would scream and try to get them to hurry as I would watch the tornado get closer and closer. In some dreams I would finally get everyone to go inside. But it was chaos trying to corral them all because they waited too long. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t see the urgency needed to save their lives (MY ultimate irony!). Inevitably the tornado would try to lift us away…then I would wake up. These dreams always felt so real! And I never understood why I had them so often. Enter todays ‘save my life grad school’ lesson…how important distress tolerance and facing life’s chaos is WHEN it occurs.

‘Rocket science’ didn’t bring me to the conclusion that my tornado dreams meant that there was some type of chaos in my life, and that they were so frequent because chaos seemed to be my life. Growing up I didn’t know how to process and heal from sad experiences through natural grief; which sadly is probably true for lots of kids. I didn’t realize that emotional pain would be temporary and was necessary to throughly heal; I would ignore any chaotic pain and try to hide from it because, well, pain is painful. This poor coping skill stayed with me for all the years of my life, and over time, the burden of these losses built up and caused even MORE pain and suffering. Over time the tornado just grew and grew…and in exponential proportions. What use to be an F-1 as a child became an F-5 by the time I was in my 20’s.

While taking care of my mom after her aneurism when I was 20, as well as my 1-year old daughter, and my 5 year old brother, I didn’t make time to grieve the loss of the mom I had known before her brain injury. Furthermore, I didn’t make time to grieve the heartache that occurred when I was sent away when pregnant, and the loss of important relationships it had caused. I didn’t make time because things needed to get done, mouths needed to be fed, doctor’s appointments needed to be made, laundry needed washing, and homework needed to get completed, kid’s needed baths, prescription’s needed to be filled, bills needed to get paid, all while trying to manage my mom who was battling side-effects from her brain injury so serious I can barely describe in words. My life was a tornado…and not only did I not have any clue how to stop it…I thought that I didn’t have any time to.

I would cry when I went to sleep at night (a lot) but that was the extent of my emotional healing; and I never truly felt better. I was stuck in a life I didn’t necessarily want to be in, and I was only 20 years old. Back then I didn’t know any different. I would just go day by day doing the things I had to do, never realizing how much not dealing with my tremendous losses was hurting me. I responded to the life I was given the best I thought I could, and tried to look away from the tornado. If I only had known what a mess it was leaving behind.

18 more years of tornadoes inevitably brought me almost to my death. I did everything I could to ignore any distress in my life, including the distress certain calls at work would cause me. I filled up many years with certificates, diplomas and degrees, but never graduated from distress tolerance kindergarden. I tried to avoid pain at all costs (I drank, I slept, etc.) and didn’t know how to accept that pain was a natural part of life, and that I could heal if I stopped avoiding it. Bitterness silently made me more mad year after year, loss after loss. I foolishly thought that my  efforts to avoid pain would make the pain go away! However, pain from original situations that were supposed to be temporary turned into long-term pain and suffering and that got harder and harder to ignore. No wonder my tornado dreams became more frequent as I got older…my psyche was trying to tell me to open my eyes to the chaos in my heart and mind. “But who has time to deal with tornadoes anyway?” would have been my statement less than a year ago. But now after all the emotional work I’ve done to date, I feel like I’m an emotional weather radar tracking system, tracking the smallest of storms…preparing for them…managing them as they come…and more importantly, staying away from tornado alley.

After my last overdose, with a lot of support and encouragement, I slowly came to ask myself, ‘when is enough, enough?’ Yes, it hasn’t always been a smooth transition from being the ‘queen of tornadoes’ to a ‘common citizen who carries around an umbrella just incase it rains’. I have A LOT of destruction to repair after attempting to avoid my pain through self-destruction. Thankfully I have come to realize that by mindfully confronting what’s going on in my life, and how my life is going, rather than hiding from every little storm cloud, I can get control of my life and experience relief, peace and joy.

Recovery doesn’t come easy when the amount of destruction seems impossible to repair, but I am slowly learning to be patient and wait for positive changes I’ve made to take root; like the seedlings planted after the storm. (The old impatient Natalie would have went to Lowe’s and purchased an expensive full-grown tree). Today ‘save my life grad school’ presented this amazing food-for-thought with regards to accepting pain and distress during ANY recovery filled with any amount of destruction:

“When we have an injury or are planning surgery, we usually ACCEPT that it will be painful…and it will take time to heal. We EXPECT and ACCEPT the TEMPORARY PAIN. We expect to EVENTUALLY feel better. We make LIFESTYLE CHANGES to get through this time. We MAKE THE BEST OF THINGS, GO ON WITH LIFE, and WAIT FOR THE RELIEF that comes from TIME and HEALING. (Gordon, M. Out-of-Control, 2009. page 302) So why should we expect to heal emotional pain any other way?

I haven’t had a tornado dream since being home from Homewood. Maybe I’ve finally moved from Kansas.

“Off With Their Heads!”

queen of hearts

I can definitely tell that I’ve been changing and growing over the past 5 months. I automatically recognize many negative emotions when they pop up and use mindfulness and patience to navigate through them rather than pushing them away. I take things one day at a time rather than ruminating about the unknown future. I’m learning so much about my addiction and how it controlled my life, and how recovery can be a life I had never imagined; a happy life. I have crisis plans and a network of friends who have ‘been where I have’ and whom I contact every day. BUT there’s still (and probably always will be) HUGE hit-me-in-the-gut, make me want to vomit, ‘what was I thinking?’, lessons almost daily. Today not being an exception!

The topic at save my life grad school was ‘Challenging Extreme Judgements’. Oh Lord…I can tell this chapter is going to sting. It spoke of how many of us ‘life students’ often use 100% emotional mind when in an argument, and don’t realize how much exaggeration is occurring on our part. When we feel hurt or upset we tell people that they NEVER do anything nice for us, or that they are ALWAYS being selfish, when in truth that is merely our emotional mind’s PERCEPTION in the moment. We feel like no one cares about us because they aren’t instantly remedying our insecurities or making us feel loved. But if we turned on our rational mind, we would see that the NEVER, and ALWAYS statements we throw out like daggers aren’t true, and that the people we are upset with feel very criticized. When we label people in extreme ways, they become defensive because our statements are unrealistic and one-sided. They then get upset that ALL of the positive things they’ve ever done for us are discounted and ignored. When we lash out with extreme judgements our loved ones don’t want to make us feel secure and loved, because they are hurt and end up pushing us away. When we accuse people of things they DON’T do, it slams the door shut on negotiation, causing hurt and misunderstanding for both parties involved.

This chapter hurts my heart to the core because I was the QUEEN of extreme judgements, and I hurt a lot of people in my life with them. I feel embarrassed that I wasn’t ‘intelligent’ enough to see how my behaviours were destructive and painful. I always felt so terribly sorry after these arguments occurred and eventually realized that I was definitely overreacting. But I had no idea why I couldn’t stop the emotional mind thoughts before it was too late. My inability to turn on rational mind until much later in the day slowly sabotaged the relationships I wanted to desperately keep. By the time I had said sorry, it was too late; the people who I loved so dearly were tired of hearing it.

I’ve learned that I created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only by having false extreme judgements about others, but also by having them of myself. Whenever I disappointed myself by hurting someone I loved I felt unworthy and I told myself over and over that I was crazy and no one would ever love me forever. I was stuck in self-defeating ways. The labels I put on myself by my own minds doing had long-lasting effects on my self-esteem and in turn slowly crumbled any true loving foundation of a relationship I had because there’s only so long anyone could TRY to convince me otherwise. For their own well-being they needed to either walk away, or I pushed them away. I thought that relationships would NEVER work out, because they hadn’t before. But what I didn’t realize was that my extreme thoughts sabotaged them from the very start. I had no idea that words and thoughts driven by a self-defeating emotional mind should never be trusted. I thought I knew what was right, but I was very wrong.

Save my life grad school is teaching me to take a stand and RATIONALLY challenge extreme judgements/lies right when they occur! I’m learning to defend myself from these judgements which will in turn protect future relationships from them as well. Like all of this ‘life work’, changes don’t happen over night. Heck, I’ve been called the Queen of Hearts before because my all-or-nothing, emotional mind extreme judgements were equal to me yelling ‘off with their heads’ if anyone threatened my heart in anyway. How I could not see that this caused undue grief when I tried to sew their heads back on once I rationally woke up?…I don’t know.

I’m not a stupid person. I’ve just been living in a dysregulated out-of-contol mind. My mind (whether or not influenced by mental health, addiction, or past experiences…It doesn’t really matter) did and said mindless and impulsive things because I only acted on emotional mind…especially when I was in a desperate state. My all-or-nothing outlook on life and love wasn’t rational and made me believe that death was the only way to be free of the turmoil and darkness which consumed me. My suicide attempt is the ultimate example of an ALL and EXTREME decision I wouldn’t be able to apologize for when my rational mind kicked in. Thank God I have the opportunity to be a different Queen of Hearts now…the queen of my own.

Easy Does It

I’m sick. It’s just a chest and head cold, but it’s kept me cooped up in bed for a few days now. I don’t like the feeling of digressing from my daily routine by staying at home as my new found education has taught me that isolating is relapse behaviour. But am I truly isolating? Or quarantining myself for the good of the public? I find myself juggling whether or not to rest my physical self, or to try and battle the elements (and pray I won’t cough till I vomit when the cold hits my lungs) and focus on my mental self. I constantly go back and forth between thinking, “well I personally wouldn’t want anyone hacking up a lung in the yoga studio”, to “well maybe if I just push myself half as hard I will be ok”, and then “but yoga etiquette says I’m not suppose to leave the studio until the class is finished and coughing for 90 minutes is horribly rude”, right back to “well going means I’m definitely still on my recovery pathway because I’m out of the house”. UGH…that’s literally how my mind works. But when I give myself a break and really think about it, even being mindful of making sure I stay on my recovery pathway is more than I ever did before.

Being that I’m a mindfulness rookie, deciphering between what is being mindful and simply being too judgemental of myself is tough. In save my life grad school we have learned that we should avoid extreme judgements, because we often base them on only an observation or two. Furthermore, if we’re in emotional mind when we are making these judgements, our perceptions are often distorted by the emotional crap we are rolling in. Making incorrect judgements is part of being human, I get that. But when mentally sick and physically sick get rolled into one (like today), and making the right judgement/recovery choices daily can be a matter of life or death, decisions regarding my health in general can get a little overwhelming.

At the end of the day I do think I’m balancing things quite well. I’m keeping my germs away from the public (you’re welcome!), but I’m very mindful to make sure that sitting in my room for most of the day doesn’t put me into a downward spiral. I need to give myself a little slack sometimes and remember ‘easy does it’. I suppose I am taking this as a learning opportunity which is good. And over time, the decisions that seem so big to me now, (go to yoga, or not go to yoga) will become easier, more natural and rather automatic. I’ve learned in school that it takes a lot of dedication and practice to change our old habits, but, the end result is well worth our effort.

Mindfulness and Valentine’s Day

pink-heart-hi

Valentine’s Day…Blah! A day I’ve never been too fond of anyway has involved me finishing ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ at home in my pajamas with my Valentine (dog) Walter, (he totally forgot to get me flowers…but whatever, he would have eaten them anyway), drinking copious amounts of coffee and taking cold FX to hopefully ward off my sore throat…how romantic. But as this silly day of love has gone by, I’ve been very conscious not to let my emotional mind start to take over for fear of heartbreak rearing it’s ugly head 10 fold. And by being so conscious of this, I have also been thinking a lot about how important mindfulness is to recovery, and also how a day of mindlessness is equally as important when needed for sanity.

Last week in save my life grad school we discussed the topic of mindfulness quite a lot. Simply put, mindfulness is awareness in the moment, in the here-and-now. It involves being aware of what we’re doing and what we’re thinking about doing. This is a skill many people implement instinctively when they are in an upsetting situation, but not I. One of my biggest problems in the past is doing before thinking, especially while I’m in an upsetting situation. In fact, in the past when I was upset my emotional mind would tell me that the only way to feel better and to calm the demons in my head was to drink, A LOT. I used to never ‘play the tape to the end’ and be mindful of the consequences of my actions. All that mattered at that moment was getting rid of the gross feeling in the pit of my stomach or of the memories that kept me awake at night. So with today being Valentine’s Day and my heart still only partially healed, the old Natalie would have used this day’s sadness as the perfect opportunity to numb! But on February 14th, 2015, I am proud to say that the only numbness I’ve felt today is when my nose was about to fall off while walking Walter outside in what feels like winter in the Yukon Territories.

A common theme I have noticed with mental health therapies is balance. A healthy life involves taking a little from column A and mixing it with column B. (At the beginning of my recovery I called this balance, ‘confusing contradictions’). For example, while in recovery it’s very important not to isolate, BUT, it’s equally as important to take time to meditate on your own. Confession time: Us Homewood U student’s quickly learned that the secret to being able to take a nap, was to say that we were ‘meditating’. Another secret was that if you wanted chocolate milk you’d better be early for lunch because it was gone faster than a parking spot on Christmas eve…but I digress. Another example of this ‘balance’ is when we are told to practice mindfulness, BUT, to also keep ourselves occupied every day so that we don’t just sit and let our minds ruminate. Can you see how life school can be a bit confusing at times? No wonder I study every day. So on days like today a little mixture of mindfulness and mindlessness may be the perfect balance for this girl. I’m mindful that I need to keep my emotions in check, but I’m mindless enough to forget to put deodorant on. Too much information?…oh well, I’m WAY past that point anyway 😉

I’ve been mindful that I’ve been quite sad at times today, and a bit lonely. I couldn’t help but think about the good times Ian and I had and how nice it was when we first started dating. It’s difficult on Cupid’s Day to not think about the flowers he would bring me home, or the first time he told me he loved me, but I didn’t beat myself up over thinking about it. I reminded myself that the feelings I had today are normal, and that I am human. In the past, these thoughts would turn into emotions that would kick-start the perfect negative self-defeating cycle of rumination and self-pity…I was a pro at it! If I was heartbroken a year ago pre-life school, I would have been a blubbering mess. I don’t even want to think about the drunk texts I would have sent! But overall I’m super proud of myself. I’ve been managing all of my emotions in a positive way today, and reminding myself that they are only temporary and that I will feel better. I’ve been saying my prayers like I’m suppose to and asking God to keep me on my recovery path and to trust that he still has good plans for my heart. And even though I honestly was not up for a meeting tonight, I was mindful that not going is typical relapse behaviour and I got my butt out that door!

So if ‘mindfulness’ is Column A, in order to keep mental health balance today, I’ve also added a little of Column B – mindlessness. Way more fun! I’m equally as proud to say that I’ve mindlessly eaten what feels like 457 of Caroline’s Valentine’s Day chocolates, had 2 naps, ate cinnamon buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner, snuggled Walter when needed, and sang in the car louder than usual on the way to my AA meeting. BAM! How’s THAT for balance?!

So as my Valentine’s day is drawing to an end, I will mindfully remind myself that the love I have in my life is immense. There’s no need to numb, or be sad. And that even though Ian and I are apart, his love taught me more than words can say. And above all, I now have love for life every day, not just on February 14th.

Taking Time on the Pathway to Recovery

pathway

Save my life Grad school has been amazing! I am truly shocked at how much I am still learning about myself and my emotions. When I finished 7 weeks of normal save my life school, I thought I had learned almost everything I needed to know to survive in this confusing messed-up world. But then HU came along and presented me with even more valuable mind-chaos to grow through by untangling each thought and emotion. It’s hard to believe that over 4 months has gone by since I became a ‘life’ student…recess is still my favourite class.

Yesterday’s topic in class was ‘The Pathways of Recovery’. Its lesson revolved around the feeling of hopelessness, which is incredibly common in people with mental health illnesses. Have you ever told yourself, “Why try, everything goes wrong anyway?” Or what about, “Things that are going good today, won’t last.” Well I sure have! These phrases fuelled my pessimistic outlook on the world, and if still used, will force me to have trouble believing recovery will make a real difference in my life. All-in-all, these self-defeating beliefs are NOT ok to live with.

Now you may be thinking, “But Natalie, SO MANY bad things have happened to me! It seems like just when I get my head out of water something pulls me down again.” And you know what, sometimes this is true. But all kinds of things can and do happen in people’s lives; some good, some bad. Hard times don’t discriminate. We ALL have terrible losses that hurt us to the core. We all have experienced sadness that we thought was never even possible. Some people get diagnosed with cancer, go bankrupt, get divorced, and some have even experienced the loss of a child. Life just sucks sometimes! It’s pretty cut and dry. But what I am learning is that choosing to cope with these terrible circumstances in a healthy way, rather than numbing instantly and hiding from our emotions, is possible. Yes that is correct, the way we cope with the atrocities of life are a choice. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth!

Before learning any coping skills over the past 4 months, when something bad happened to me I numbed it right away, usually with alcohol. Furthermore, I would hide from situations in my life which may cause conflict, thus causing me pain. This avoidance of pain is an unhealthy way to behave as well, and often lead me slowly into a horrible depression. Rather than tackling a problem head on and getting it sorted out right away, I would ignore, ignore, ignore! I thought it would disappear! What was I thinking? It only grew into a bigger problem every day.

The bottom line is, I didn’t like to feel. But if I want to stay on the recovery path I have to start trusting in my ability to get through hard times, no matter how gross they make me feel. I can’t just run to a bottle of wine or down a jar of pills at the first glimpse of sadness. Clearly those choices made everything worse. Adopting the ability to choose to accept the normal pain life brings us is going to be tough at first. Thinking with a rational mind when all I’m use to thinking with is an emotional mind, will take time and practice.

What I’ve learned in school is that we have to give ourselves TIME and permission to process a painful event. We need to allow ourselves to experience ALL the normal human emotions which may come with the situation. That’s when thing get scary for me. Then we need TIME to develop a game plan, and TIME to implement it. Healthy people do these things instinctively. Buggers. But with practice this can be second nature for anyone with mental health illnesses too. I usually want the pain and discomfort to go away fast! But oddly enough, the sooner I accept that it will take TIME to get through a loss, the sooner I will heal from the loss.

Recently I have experienced this ability to get through pain with time and it’s quite empowering. My heart break with Ian has hurt me A LOT. And at first I definitely didn’t cope with it in a healthy way. I wanted to rip my heart out of my chest rather than feel the pain of losing someone I love. But as time has gone on, it’s getting better. I’ve tolerated the distress adequately and allowed time to go by. I still have bad days and need to talk it out with a friend, (healing isn’t progress every day) but overall I am able to tell myself that what I’m feeling is normal and that it won’t last forever. Even through the biggest heart break of my life I still haven’t picked up a drink; that’s cause for some pride 🙂

Shit is going to happen. At times life sucks. And especially for people with mental health illnesses, the fight to get through tragedy can also be a fight for their lives. I am by far NO expert in this ‘give yourself time to heal’ world; I’m a freshman at best! But through the effort and determination to stay on the pathway to recovery, we can gain life stability and improved life outcomes.

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