Monday, 10 December 2012

Compassion for my Past Self

What if we looked at emotional sensitivity as simply another way to experience life? I would like to live in a world where there is more than one way to be social. 

The expected way to relate to others comes through external channels, such as other people, home, school, work and the general public. These come with a prescribed way of acting and being. 

But what happens if it’s impossible for you to swallow an approved social remedy? We feel like we are missing out on life because there seems to be a piece missing. We compensate for the overtly stimulating world with coping strategies. I turned to food, study and avoidance. They became the rules by which I could function for a time. They were my compensatory methods for living in a world full of difficulties. In a world which is overwhelming, emotionally over-stimulating, and just too demanding, this was a smart strategy; I had to establish a way I could live amidst a world of social encounters I couldn't relate to. 

Food was my numbing essence, it was comparable to a resolved hug from a caring parent, full of comfort and compassion and unconditional love. I ate until my world made sense again, until I felt the familiar pain and stretch in my stomach that reminded me that I was a living, breathing human being. The food passed my lips like smooth caramel that cascades from high up off a wooden spoon as it’s ladled from a hot sauce pan and falls back into the sweet sticky mass.. I ate to fill the missing piece I lacked in life. I ate until I felt like a full person. 

The release after overeating came like the shutter release on an old manual camera. All it took was one finger gently pressing down on the right spot. The picture of the inside of that toilet bowl will be burned into the back of my mind forever. 

wasn't a natural academic. I worked hard to find the peace and control good grades offered me. It was a steady focus I could control. It also gave me an excuse to practice my third coping method; avoidance. I arrived to school early most days, and rarely went home before 8 pm  The library and study rooms became my best friends. I loved the stillness; I loved the silence they offered. Finally I found a place that didn't overwhelm me. I had my own small place which I inhabited. Yet due to dyslexia, I couldn't always concentrate on school work for long periods of time, so often I would read or day dream about the stories I read. I became aware through literature how the characters in the books dealt with life. I was drawn into the safety of the stories and the friends I gained by scanning each line. I learnt how to be from those books.

Even when it came to sport, I avoided team games and opted for swimming. It was a solitary exercise. When I put my head under the water, the world became still and quite. The gentle echoes were comforting and safe for me. And this way less people asked questions as to why I came into school so early. I could cry easy in the pool and nobody knew. 

As I look back at my teenage years I can see clearly that I have always been a very sensitive person, easily overwhelmed and highly emotional. I didn't know that then though. I just thought that my general ‘being’ was wrong and non-functional. 

Okay, these coping methods were never going to useful forever, but in a way I am sort of proud of my little adolescent self. She found a way to survive, to live and to get by in a scary lonely world. So now I don’t look back with scorn at my past behaviors  I look back with compassion for a girl who didn't know any other way to stay alive. And in twenty years I will look back on what I will have learnt and see that right now I am doing the best I can do right at this moment. I will always face difficulties, I don't like to think I will be this way for ever, but the harsh reality is that

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Thoughts are not always facts!

Living one day at a time 
Enjoying one moment at a time 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace 

Taking this difficult world 
As it is 
Not as I would have it. 

And in this way 
Opening to Grace 
And the Joy and Peace that comes with it.

Thoughts are not facts. They may not always be your friends.....

In the midst of a full blown emotional dysregulation attack I find myself so much estranged from my heart, body, and spirit, relying almost exclusively on the thoughts in my head for guidance, companionship, criticism, and comfort.

To hear “your thoughts are not facts” was scary to me. If I couldn't trust my own thoughts, was there anything trustworthy I could count on?

I slowly began to understand more about thoughts during the summer (and a bit) I spent inpatient at a hospital in Dublin, their nature and purpose, how they arose and where they went after I stopped paying attention to them.

Along the way, I learned that thoughts were not necessarily my enemies either.

They were just my thoughts.

And even the “my” was up for debate, because technically they belonged to no one until one floated by in my mind and intrigued me, at which time I reached up, nabbed it, and claimed it with a triumphant  “Mine!”

Thoughts, one kind occupational therapist explained, are like clouds. Only much closer to the ground. 

We snatch them up as if it they are the last pair of jeans on sale in our size. We are afraid it will get away before we decide if we want it or not.

I feel I know so little about myself that I seem claim anything and everything so that I will not be left with a shell where a personal identity should be.I must be choosier, I have the right to question each and every thought – to turn the tables and become the exclusive commodity that my thoughts want to hang around!

I am the one who is in demand. I am the one that keeps my thoughts keep hanging around. I have limited capacity for thoughts, and only want the cream of the crop.

Therefore, each thought must go through an extensive screening process, much like a job interview. “What can you add to my life?” “What have you come to teach me?” “Are you here to uplift me or drag me down?” “Are you telling me the truth?” If I see a thought float by that looks interesting, I can pause it, circle its perimeter, ask it a few questions, then decide whether to pull it down into my awareness for further scrutiny and conversation, or just motion it along.

I realize now that I have the right to question my thoughts – but my thoughts do not have the right to question ME. WE choose them, and not the other way around.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mindful Moments

The time of your life?
How do you experience time in this season?
Are you in control of your time? time as a whole?
or does time control you?
How do you relate to time?

When I don't want to deal with something I seem not to experience time accurately. I block time out, dissociate from it, try to run away from it. Days or weeks can slip by without me taking stock, and I find it hard to recall memories with much detail. 

Now, after almost two years of therapy, I try (but don't always succeed) to take in each moment for what it is, not run away from time, but experience it.

This is the essence of what I have come to know today as mindfulness. Learning to let go and be without thought, without judgment, without mind, to really be present with each and every moment.

This is easier said than done. Instead, I waste my time either ruminating over past mistakes or worrying about future catastrophes. But I have learned that I can’t change the past. So why live in it? There are no guarantees for the future. So why jump to conclusions? Of course it is intelligent to plan for the future. It is also smart to learn from my past mistakes. However, it is irrational to worry about that over which I have no control – e.g., the past and the future.

Living in the “now” allows me to be present, mindful, and experience the passing of time. Whatever emotion or thought I am experiencing, whether positive or negative, over time, has to pass. The moment I wrote these words has just passed. Try to hold onto it… I can’t. The moment I write THESE words has passed again. And so on and so forth. This is what is meant by “This too shall pass.” Every moment is moving toward the next moment. Being present in THIS moment as it occurs leads to mindfulness.

The only time we have control over is this very moment. So If I live each moment as it is, life seems less overwhelming. I can always manage what the next 60 seconds will bring, and then I move on the the next moment and so on.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas Flashbacks

What does December/Winter mean to you? 

This is a really hard post for me to write. December means painful memories and flashbacks full of grief for me. When I was 4 years old my little world came crashing down around me. My sense of safety, of consistency, of stability was all destroyed when my father fought his last physical fight with my mother, packed up his possessions and left us. He walked away from my mother and abandoned me and my sister. 

I didn’t understand what had I done? Was it something I said? How could I make him come back? It must have been because I wasn’t well behaved, because I talked too much, because I annoyed him, because I wasn’t the perfect child. 

My memories of the separation are patchy, but the emotions attached to them are real, and are important; really important. I was scared that my mother would leave me next or my sister. I turned from an out-going child to a needy and serious little girl within days. I carried a furrow on my brow and a lump in my throat, and somehow, Christmas just didn’t seem all that exciting anymore. 

As the years went by my father compensated for his lack of emotional attachment to me and the non-existent yet much needed expressions of love with sensational, expensive gifts. It was as if he was showing up my mother who just about managed to put food on the Christmas dinner table, and keep us excited about getting a token from Santa. He picked us up on Christmas morning and showered us with gifts our mother dreamed of giving us, but couldn’t because my father lied and cheated his way out of paying child support. 

I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t articulate my emotions the way I can now. I should never have been used as the pawn in my parent’s war. It was not the way a child should have been treated. It affected me deeply and Christmas was always a constant yearly reminder of how other happy families and tight nuclear formulation contrasted sharply with my broken home where sadness reigned and fear propagated like rabbits. 

So December means difficult emotions for me. Sorry no Christmas cheer is this post, but I thought that writing a bit about my story might give you some insight into what went on for me so you can see that these things can be processed and that there are ways to overcome painful memories. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Great Expectations

Blogging for Well-being - Advent Blog - 2nd December

Christmas is a special time of the year for us all. It's especially a time for family gatherings and while it may be wonderful to get together and mark the passing of another year there can be many stresses about it too.

Christmas is also a time for remembering and while for many their memories of past Christmas' are filled with joy for others these memories may not be as happy. If this is the case for you it may influence how you approach planning for Christmas

We human beings are always "expecting." In other words, we are always having expectations. Lots of expectations. Some we are consciously aware of. Many others, we are not.

Expectations are always there, however, in the background of our daily experiences. Whether we are attuned to them or whether we are oblivious to them--which too often is the case--our expectations come into play in a multitude of subtle ways.

Why focus on expectations? The main reason is that expectations are a common source of stress in our lives. They frequently create all sorts of mischief, including emotional distress, relationship conflicts, communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, distrust, and a wide range of other common problems.

Expectations produce stress in two main ways. One is that they are frequently untrue or unrealistic. The other is that most of the time, we are completely unaware of them. Individual expectations are not very complicated. They often consist of simple ideas such as "life should be fair," "people should be honest," etc. It's the fact they are hidden from our view that gives them so much power over us.

Many of my emotionally dysregulated periods have been because I have expected something that may have been unrealistic, and when people or situations don’t live up to my expectations coupled with a less than mindful approach, I become very disappointed and upset, causing my emotions to fluctuate and spiral out of control.

When we consciously or unconsciously harbor expectations that are much too high, we set ourselves up for failure. As a result, we end up feeling frustrated, angry, and personally demoralized.

Once you become aware of an untrue or unrealistic expectation; YOU gain the power to free yourself from it.

It's really just that simple. But "simple" doesn't always mean "easy"--unless, that is, you have the expectation that it does! It's one thing to become aware of your unconscious expectations. It's quite another to know which ones are realistic and which ones aren't. This takes wisdom, yet most people have far more wisdom than they usually give themselves credit for.

Social and personal expectations are a major source of holiday stress. The holiday season is not a happy time for everyone. Yet we all tend to feel compelled to look and feel merry during this time.

The mass media and happy Hollywood movies fuel these expectations. If you are single, alone, or recently divorced or separated, the social pressures at this time of year can be quite stressful. Similarly, we all have expectations of how our friends and family members should behave during the holidays. When these expectations are not met, stress and interpersonal conflicts can easily arise.

All families experience tension to some degree. But there is a DBT skill that may help you; I know last year it really aided me. COPE AHEAD. Part of the reason why Christmas time can be so stressful is the unrealistic expectation of coming together as a happy family on this one day of the year. Suggestions for coping ahead with Christmas include:
  1. Keep realistic expectations. If your relatives tend to fight throughout the year, they will most likely fight on Christmas Day as well. 
  2. Appreciate that everyone is under stress to a certain degree. For example, one relative may have worked overtime to get everything done before their office closed for Christmas, and may be feeling exhausted and harried. Another may be anxious because they overspent on their credit cards. Be as understanding as you can of people's situations. 
  3. Consider breaking up the celebrations to keep 'warring factions' apart. For example, you could see one group of relations on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas Day. 
  4. Family members involved in after-lunch activities (such as a walk by the sea) are less likely to get into arguments. Plan for something to do as a group after lunch if necessary. 
  5. Use relaxation techniques, distraction and group activities to help steer around stressful situations. 
  6. Avoid overindulging in alcohol – the reduced inhibitions could contribute to (or cause) an unnecessary argument. 

Be MINDFUL of your emotions and feelings today and over the next few weeks, and don’t let your expectations rule your enjoyment of what can be a very happy time of year. It's all part of creating a LIFE WORTH LIVING.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

OBSERVING the Christmas Challenge

Blogging for wellness - Advent Calender - Christmas Countdown - December 1st

A dear friend Tracey Weldon came up with this blogging idea, where for every day of advent, I will post about ways to manage and enjoy Christmas without letting an emotional vulnerability cause a crisis or unnecessary suffering.

This way of blogging is a little bit different from my normal manner of expressing myself. But I need to challenge myself into action. I am setting challenges in my recovery and in my hobbies and now, this here is another fun challenge to help ease the stressful anticipation of Christmas.

I have had a few years of having to learn to manage coping with the Christmas run-up, the actual event and the after mass. It's like walking on a tight rope full of obtsicules such as family gatherings, trigger foods, flash backs, over-stimulation, financial worries.....Yet the view from up there while you are balanced on the rope is wonderful. Yes its hard, and really challenging, but the key is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Stay focused on the moment your are in right now. It a balancing act of vulnerabilities and happy times.

The dialectic here is that yes Christmas can be hard, but at the same time it can be a really nice time. When you allow yourself to feel and process the distress that Christmas may evoke, you make room for POSITIVE EXPERIENCES and new happy memories to be created. 

The MINDFULNESS skill OBSERVE is really vital here. You can't just by-pass the negative emotions, you need to feel them, and deal with them. Trust me, I have spent so much time running away from my emotions, wishing so hard that they would just go away entirely,  but that is not reality. 

Check in with yourself regularly over the next 24 days, be kind and compassionate to how hard this time of year can be for everyone, not just those with an emotional vulnerability. Just don't forget that the holidays can also be full of beautiful moments, look out for those too. Its all part of creating a LIFE WORTH LIVING.