Coping Strategies: Day 94 of “365 Days of Affirmations” challenge

Background

About 3 months ago, I decided to try to write a unique affirmation every day for 365 days.  You can read about it here in this post.  Today’s featured image is an affirmation from Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life inspired me to persist on my recovery journey after my first big relapse.  Maybe it will help you too.

As a writing challenge, I was pushed to sit and put time/effort/discipline into practice on a regular basis.

As a mental health challenge, this was a way to get all parts of me to change perspective from negative or neural to positive and friendly.

As a personal challenge, this helped (and continues to help) cope with and work through fears of failure, rejection, worthlessness, and shame.

How and Why?

Writing Challenge:
My writing style (not work related) is rather undisciplined and spontaneous.  That works okay for some things like Alter Post stories and so on, but it’s not that great when I try to organize ideas and improve my skills to provide useful, concise, well-written content overall.  The discipline of having to write even a few words every day has helped a lot with organization and self-discipline for writing.

Mental Health Challenge:
Change is difficult for anyone.  For me (especially when the I is more like them, us, we, him, her) staying positive and changing our perspective about life from negative to positive is a challenge.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Action Commitment Therapy (ACT) can only do so much if the rest of me isn’t willing to put in the work.Writing at least 1 positive affirmation about my intention for the day forced everyone to think outside the box and get creative.  Imagination and curiosity always gets everyone in my system excited and willing to try something new.

Personal Challenge
Fear of failure as in stop trying because you can’t win or aren’t good enough.

Fear of rejection as in why bother because no one cares?  Anyone who finds you writing this is going to criticize and insult or make fun of you.

Fear of worthlessness (lack of confidence) and shame as in you can’t do this.  You’re not smart enough or good enough at writing to create affirmations.  You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you can write affirmations, let alone the disciplined enough to write one every day.  You’re too lazy and irresponsible.

Those have been the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and voices in my head for as long as I can remember.  Most of the time, I can use coping techniques and strategies to get around them.  That’s not enough anymore.

This challenge was and is a way to use “small successes” and “determination” to keep writing the affirmations even when I miss one or more days in a row because life got in the way.

Celebrating Day 94

Today is Day 94 of the challenge.  At my lowest point, I missed writing 5 affirmations/quotes in a row.  On my best days, I wrote up to 3 affirmations and/or quotes in a day.  Some are phrases.  Some are poems.  Some are paragraphs.

All of these affirmations are unedited first drafts right now.  The first 10 or so are awful and require some revising.  But I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share some of my favorites with you.

Affirmation 94: “I love my family unconditionally and accept them as they are”

Affirmation 79: “The universe is full of friendly people.  Universe is friendly, not scary.”

Affirmation 8: “I am safe and secure in my home.  Today is an excellent day for laundry.”

Mantra 31:

“I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Memories can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Family can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  The mail will be delivered without fuss.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Lyft is faster and safer than a bus.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Therapy today is right for us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  I/WE believe in us”

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

Shame: Writing, regrets, mistakes, and grudges

Earlier this week, I listened to Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong as part of my coping strategy to drown out the distracting ambient sound.  Ms. Brown built on her premise about being in the arena, falling down, and rising up again – specifically the rising up and continuing after falling – in this book.

I’m really happy that I waited until now to read the book.  If I had tried a few months ago or years ago when I first discovered her work, my mind and body would have been ready to learn what Ms. Brown shared.  Especially not about the benefits of journaling, drawing/coloring/sketching, reflection, meditation, and writing one’s thoughts on paper in general.

I tried a few of the exercises as I listened to the audiobook and came back with some lessons learned.

First Lesson:
I feel and experience regrets, but do not want them to influence or take over my life any more than I want grudges or my past to influence my present and future.  So when I say that I live without regrets, it means that I am learning from and remembering what those experiences taught me, but I my intention is to not get caught up in them.

So the phrase “living without regrets” is a trigger for me and means something different than what Ms. Brown discusses.  That’s okay too because I hope that someday I can change my opinion and live with my regrets instead of treating them like triggers or grudges.

Lesson 2:
I feel a lot of shame about my writing, writing goals, and career choices.  That shame is partly fear-based, but also tied in with my sense of self.  It’s part of what makes using coping strategies like journaling and art therapy so triggering.  Writing is something I learned out of necessity because my voice was silenced.

But before the necessity, came a love of writing that had to do with story-telling and sharing information.  Less about teaching and more about helping others learn to think, do, and act for themselves.  aka independence.  It’s something both sides of my family taught me from a very young age.  And something I wanted to share with my younger cousins as soon as I realized how unsafe it was to depend on adults.

Lesson 3:
While I am good at offering help and giving to others, I’m not as good about asking for and receiving help.  Receiving and accepting help is a lot less scary and stressful now than it used to be, but I have a long way to go before the residual shame and fear go away for good.

Beyond that, opening up and letting others into my world is not simple or easy.  One thing therapy has taught me is to be my authentic self always.  In that sense, I am learning to accept and be comfortable as a mostly-solitary introvert who is more often than not anti-social too.  Part of it comes from my own anxiety about being in crowds or interacting with people.  And part of it has to do with questioning my ability to cope with the prejudice and racism that often interferes with activities I choose to participate in.

In this, Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) is my role model.

Here’s an example of my notes from one exercise:

Shame and writing

I feel shame about writing outside of the blog.
I feel shame about being a writer.
I feel shame whenever I try to write a book or think about starting a book.
I feel shame whenever I take steps to change my career.
I feel shame whenever I think about where to take my resource website and blog.
Talking about regrets:
I want to live without regrets because every experience is meaningful to me.  In my mind, regrets are kind of like grudges.  I acknowledge regrets.  I feel the emotions related to the experience that led to feeling regret.  I learn from the experience and remember why I felt and/or still feel regret when thinking about the experience.  Then I let those feelings go for now.  My goal is to acknowledge, experience/feel, learn from, and then let go of those experiences so that they inform my present choices without directly influencing or taking them over.

My favorite part about Rising Strong:

Throughout the book, Ms. Brown acknowledges that mental/behavioral problems and substance abuse along with trauma add complexities to the concepts and learning path she shares in her book.  One chapter towards the end specifically discusses this and clearly states that the purpose of this book is for guidance and support purposes; it is not a treatment plan or supposed to be used as one.

I really appreciate this message because trauma, substance abuse, and mental/behavioral problems really do change how an individual experiences life and emotions.

My Darkness or Shadow self:

I am or can be rebellious, stubborn, bad tempered, slow to anger yet easily triggered (reactive), sometimes insecure, sometimes arrogant, curious, slow to make decisions, sarcastic, sometimes mean, often blunt to the point of rudeness, and type A personality among other things.  I often fight back and stand up when running is the safer option too.

And yet, each of these characteristics helped me become who I am now.  As part of my healing journey, I had to learn that being strong, having boundaries, securing those boundaries, and showing confidence are neither good nor bad.  How they are expressed and how I react to others decides how those characteristics are perceived.  And part of Rising Strong‘s message has to do with embracing the dark or shadowed parts of oneself as much as the lighter parts and valuing all parts of oneself.

By valuing all parts of oneself, the light shines through the darkness, burning away the secrets and fears that feed shame and negativity.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a lot to reflect on after listening to one of Brene Brown’s books.  In the correct frame of mind, her books are inspiring and thought-provoking.  In a different frame of mind, her books could be (unintentionally) triggering.

If any of you do decide to read or listen to these books, please be cautious and mindful of how your mind and body reacts.

Thanks for reading.

Family: Writing to my dad this year

This time of year, I think about my family often.  A lot of “firsts” happened between November and May.  Including the first time my dad chose someone else instead of me.  That choice left me feeling shamed, rejected, and hurt (physically and emotionally).

Perspective has taught me that, no matter what he said or did, my father loves me.  He has never chosen me or put me first, but he does love me and did try to take care of me as best he could.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if some of the things he said and did after I reached adulthood were his way of protecting me and ensuring I had the means to become and independent adult.

Self-Reflection over the past few months has taught me that I am truly in a better place overall.  I feel physically safe 99% of the time and emotionally safe about 80% of the time except during the rough periods.  My life is prosperous and overall happy.  Because of all this, I am in a position to reach out and contact my dad without the crippling anxiety or fear of discovery/intrusion into my present life.

So I am composing a letter to him.  Right now, the drafts are in my mind.  At some point, I will decide whether or not to type or hand write the letter and mail it in an envelope with only my initials.  No contact info or ability to trace anything back to me.

Why now?

I miss my dad.  I worry about him and his health.  And I worry about the responsibility he has in taking care of the egg donor.

Yes, I am still reluctant to call her “mom” or “mother”, etc.  She didn’t raise me.  And she never really took care of me.  I only got her attention when I embarrassed, insulted, shamed, or offended her in some way.  Or when she decided to “be a nice mom” and involve herself in my life to show how much she loves me and how little I appreciate her.

No I don’t want anything to do with her or my sibling and his circle of people.

Will this be difficult?  Yes because they all share a house.

Do I care?  Not anymore.

Wish me luck.  The goal is to have this letter written and mailed out by summer.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: To Share or Not to Share? Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Disclosing Mental Illness

If you’ve read past posts, then you remember how I feel about labels and my thoughts about the term “mental illness”.

If not, here is the short version:
I do not believe PTSD or trauma-related mental health issues to be a form of mental illness in the same sense as say schizophrenia.

  • Schizophrenia has an underlying biological cause originating in one’s brain physiology.  aka the condition is not caused by outside experiences.  It could be developmental or genetic or a mix of influences.
  • PTSD and trauma-related mental health problems are caused by outside influences and experiences beyond an individual’s control and processing ability.  The brain and body adapts to these experiences by utilizing creative coping strategies that change the individual’s responses to stress.

Took me a long time to stop making excuses and apologizing for taking care of myself, but eventually I did.

Now I only share my past and my challenges for specific reasons:

  • Communication and team work for business purposes
  • Honesty when building friendships
  • When my symptoms might interfere with my ability to enjoy life and/or be productive
  • Discuss care with providers
  • Certain Legal and Human Resources situations

The rest of the time, I choose to be as “normal” as possible.  Why else create a toolbox of coping strategies and techniques for every day and special occasion use?

Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Mental Illness does not make me “special” or “different”.  I am independent and able to make plans that allow for potential triggers and stressors, especially when traveling.

I do not need or want  preferential treatment when I travel.

Advance planning allows me to arrange my  travel plans to accommodate anxiety, panic attacks, triggers, etc. without having to disclose any information to airlines, bus station attendants, and other transportation officials.

When I make my plans, I expect them to mostly stay the same unless there is some kind of natural disaster or emergency beyond anyone’s control that requires change.

I don’t expect to have my seat assignments randomly changed last minute and for no reason.  Nor do I expect to have to talk with multiple representatives and disclose having panic attacks in order to get a seat assignment similar to my original one.

Yet that’s exactly what happened on American Airlines.  To make matters worse, some of the gate or counter representatives recognized me and were accordingly rude.

So, I stayed calm and professional while quietly repeating my emergency disclosure summary:

“I don’t want to cause problems and understand if you can’t help me, but I have panic attacks.  (This is what happened).  (This is why I am asking for an accommodation).  Any help is appreciated, and I understand if you can’t accommodate my situation.  Thank you.”

In this example, I need to sit in an aisle seat on airplanes.  Doesn’t matter where on the airplane or how cramped the seat is as long as I have an aisle seat.

Everything else can be accommodated.

Coping Strategies

I have none at the moment.  The whole fiasco still pisses me off and probably will for a while.

All I can say is that I’m grateful that a panic attack did not occur at an airline or on a plane.

Yes, I did have a few emotional moments.  But anyone who was awake for 40 hours and had to make 3 connections on 4 planes would have some emotional moments.

Practical Adaptations

  • Don’t fly United Airlines
  • Save up and apply for TSA pre-check
  • Start an air travel fund for emergency trips
  • Travel during seasons that don’t require heavy layers
  • Pay extra to fly on JetBlue or a similar airline instead
    • JetBlue has provided the best flying experiences so far

Reflection Questions for Guests (you don’t have to comment or share unless you want to do so)

  • In what situations do you share information about your mental illness?
  • How would you feel about being forced to disclose such information?
  • How do you feel about receiving preferential treatment?  Why?
  • Would you disclose your mental illness status if it meant getting preferential treatment?  Why or why not?
  • What coping strategies or safety plans do you have in place to cope with stressful situations like travel changes beyond your control?
  • Do you think having a backup plan and coping strategies would be helpful in situations like this?

Thanks for reading

Family: Reflecting on Changes & Possibilities

Air Plane Coping Strategies Part 2:

Yesterday, I couldn’t post anything.  The flight was delayed Saturday evening, and I barely made my connection Sunday morning.  Then, most of the afternoon/evening was spent with my family.

Here are some photos of what I used  to cope with the 2.5 hour delay, crowded air planes, and stress of trying to get to my connection on time.

On the positive side, the airport’s counter service and flight attendants were amazing and compassionate in helping me cope with the delays and flight changes.  On arrival, the bus driver was helpful and kind; he asked questions and let me know when to get off the bus.  And the hotel concierge got me checked in and settled without any issues.

Family

This time around there was less pressure on everyone.  Staying at the hotel gives me the space I need to take care of myself and feel safe.  Being close to public transportation means I can come and go as I please and be able to visit family for hours at a time.

We are all working hard to get to know each other as adults.  My aunts, uncle, and I are building relationships through open communication, compromise, and love for each other.  When we disagree, we talk about it and resolve the issues instead of stomping off and yelling and holding grudges.

They don’t feel forced to play host to a guest and entertain me all the time.  I don’t feel forced to be talkative and entertaining all the time.  We give each other space; do everyday things; and enjoy quiet time together.  We spend time in groups or one on one; and this time around no one feels left out or excluded by accident or on purpose.

It feels really good to be able to come home to family and enjoy our time together.

Reflection Topics

News about my parents – their health is worsening.  My aunts and uncle tell me that my dad worries about me; that he’s happy I am safe and happy too.

Reconnecting with mom’s side of the family – starting small with my cousins.  Moving on with others as time goes on.  But not sure I want to go back to the place I was raised.

Writing to my dad – My dad told his family that he heard from a cousin I was happy living in the Pacific Northwest.  He also told them he was glad that I was safe and happy more than anything else.  With my dad, there was a lot of good mixed in with the bad before puberty.  So maybe it’s time to write to him…if I can find a way to do that and make sure he’s the only one to read the letter

Conclusion

I’ve changed since walking away in 2012.  Seems like my family members have changed too.  This trip, while unexpected, really brought home that family changes, people change, and sometimes a happy ever after does come true.

So it’s time to reflect.  Time to reconsider what is possible.  And what is not possible.  I won’t ever move back here.  But maybe I will budget and create time in my calendar for a yearly visit.

Thanks for reading.