In the last post, I mentioned the poisonous thoughts that arise when I try to ask other people for help. I’ve been thinking about this idea. Are there Deadly Elements (e.g. grenades) in my brain that can get triggered by my thoughts, feelings, or actions? If so, how can I find and destroy those pockets while simultaneously employing the baby steps concept?
Aren’t babies cute? There is nothing more adorable and exciting as watching babies take their first steps.
Twelve Step and other recovery groups often emphasize the need to take “baby steps” as we move along our journeys towards growth. But what does that even mean? When I think of baby steps, I see several crucial facets that can be applied to my personal journey.
First, no one expects a baby to run a marathon when she takes her first steps, yet I often expect too much of myself when I begin something new. Continue reading Baby Steps? Part 1
I lost my temper today. It was primarily caused by my feelings of shame. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been having more trouble with shame lately. My therapist said that maybe I am moving to a new level of recovery and the “old me” is fighting back. The me that feels like a horrible person. The me that gets uncomfortable when my life is going too smoothly. The me that looks for a way to sabotage any success.
Regardless of the cause, I lost my temper. I felt like crying, screaming, banging the wall, and cursing. I actually did a bit of it.
But then I stopped myself. I was seriously white-knuckling it. All I could think of was “breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.” If I tried to think of anything else my feelings started to take over again.
After awhile I was able to relax my muscles instead of being so tense. I still felt bad, and I knew I was still fragile. The smallest thing could knock me over the edge again. My stomach was still churning, my jaws were still clenching, but if I could just hang on long enough, I knew that the awful feelings would end.
Sometimes I forget that feelings change. Especially I forget that I can make an effort to change them. Sometimes the only effort needed is to NOT do things that will make the situation worst — to get quiet inside, focus on my breath, and let peace into my mind.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERS
I don’t know if I was ever completely serious about taking my own life. I know I wanted to hurt myself, though. And some of the things I did to hurt myself could have killed me, whether I intended that or not.
I felt so miserable at those times. No matter which way I looked I felt pain — unending, mind-crushing pain. There seemed to be no way out. I believed that I was a bad person, a complete failure, and that I had no business being on this planet making other people unhappy.
Bipolar disorder is a strong risk factor for suicide. The rate of suicide for the general public is about 1%. For those with bipolar, it is 15-17%. Suicide is the leading cause of premature death for bipolar patients. It is more likely if the person is undiagnosed or untreated. By “untreated” I mean “not taking medication.” The person may have the medication but refuse to take it. This is a very common problem for bipolar individuals — because they feel so good when they become hypomanic or even the early stages of mania, they don’t want to take a drug which will prevent both downswings and upswings.
I wonder how many people with bipolar take their meds as prescribed? Do you take them properly, or do you go with the temptation to skip them sometimes?
Using Altoids tins to make a variety of items has become very popular. I have seen everything from emergency preparedness and first aid kits to electronics such as a flashlight or a solar powered iPhone charger to pocket chess and kids’ toys. So it was inevitable that I would decide to make a mini-crisis kit out of a tin. It’s handy when I don’t want to take a purse or other bag, because it fits in my pocket. Here’s what I put in:
I first heard about survival or crisis kits while in the hospital trauma unit, and I made my first one 7 or 8 years ago. The only problem with that one was that I never used it. I fell so quickly and thoroughly into feelings of rage or despair or terror that I completely forgot about the kit. If I had remembered, perhaps I would have been able to rise out of the overwhelming emotions much faster.
What goes in a survival kit? Like a kit designed for survival in a hurricane or a snowstorm, an emotional survival kit provides for emergencies. Basically, it contains items that appeal to the 5 senses and create a sense of well-being. Sensory input is a great way to self-soothe. By looking at a pleasant picture, using fragrant lotion, or tasting something I love, I am distracted from the overwhelming feelings so that their power over me is broken. A survival kit should include at least one thing for each of the 5 senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. It is also good to include something that will distract the mind itself.
Here’s the contents of the kit I made recently:
~ pictures of my children and their cats (sight)
~ a rosary (touch, also spiritual)
~ lip gloss (smell, taste, touch)
~ sugar-free candy (taste)
~ a book that makes me laugh (Non Campus Mentis)
~ mp3 player (hearing)
This list is not particularly different from the kit I made years ago, but this time I’m actually using it! When I feel myself growing distraught, irritable, or nervous, I use one or more of the things in my kit to help me return to equilibrium. To be honest, I am surprised at how effective it is!
The single most useful item is the lip gloss, probably because it is multi-sensory. It smells like strawberries, absolutely delicious! Putting it on immediately calms me; one requirement, however, is that I must use the lip gloss only when I need it for self-soothing — the rest of the time I use regular lip balm.
From now on, I have no excuse for not making use of a survival or crisis kit. I know that it works. It’s a resource I can use on a daily basis to self-soothe and modulate my emotions.
Next post: How to make a mini-crisis kit from an Altoids tin
I have a lot of trouble relaxing sometimes. It’s much easier to say “relax” than to actually do it! I’ve practiced a variety of techniques since I was a teenager, because beginning in childhood I had extreme anxiety and trouble falling asleep. I’m not sure how I learned about ways to relax, but I think I read it in a self-help book.
Some of the relaxation techniques that I have used focus directly on the muscles that are tense. I prefer to lie on my back but you could sit in a comfortable chair. I start with my feet. I tense the muscles of my feet as tightly as I can and hold for 3-5 seconds, then relax, imagining all the tension flowing out. I repeat this for my feet, then move to my ankles and calves. I try to feel the heaviness of each area as I move up. For example, when I finish my legs, I tell myself that my legs are as heavy as concrete. I continue with my arms, torso, neck and head. When I’m finished, I search through my body for any remaining tension, and if I find any I repeat the tense-release procedure.This is also called progressive relaxation.
Sometimes I imagine all my muscles becoming as heavy as lead and being pulled downward by gravity. Other times I use conscious breathing, one of the simplest methods. I often do it lying down before I fall asleep because it helps me clear my mind of worry and racing thoughts. I have practiced it enough that, except in the most worrisome times, all I need to do is to slow down and even out my breathing rhythm. I pay attention to my breath and in a few seconds my muscles begin to relax. I drop my jaw a bit (I carry a lot of anxiety in my jaw) to release the tension there and take some breaths through my mouth. Sometimes I have to call my attention back to my breath several times, but if I persist (and don’t get frustrated with myself!) I usually achieve my goal.
When I first learned controlled breathing, it was a bit scary because I had a fear of suffocating and I didn’t like to think about my breathing at all (this was a long, long time ago). However, I persisted because I had bad insomnia, and over time I got better at it. I also had trouble, as most people do, with intrusive thoughts. I tried to actively push them away but that didn’t work because it still took my concentration away from my breath. I had to learn to let them go as if they were leaving anyway. I also find it helpful to use a mantra when I have severely intrusive thoughts, because when I think the mantra I’m automatically thinking other things less. A mantra can be a word or a phrase or a longer prayer.
Here’s how to get started with conscious breathing: First, make sure you are in a position (lying or sitting) where you can comfortably allow your chest and abdomen to expand as you breathe. Begin by noticing your breathing – not controlling it, just noticing. Awareness by itself may slow it down. Other thoughts will come to mind; let them float away. Gently draw your attention back to your breath. The goal is to maintain passive concentration. Next, try to breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, then out through your mouth for a count of 5. Don’t force it, just let it happen. Feel the air flowing into your nostrils then past your tongue. Let the breath travel to every part of your body, gathering negativity and stress, which you can then breathe out to be rid of it. The next inhalation will bring in peace and relaxation. Continue this practice for 20-30 minutes, or as long as you comfortably can. Don’t be discouraged if you are bombarded with unwanted thoughts! With practice, you will be able to let them automatically slide out as soon as they enter. At the end of the meditation you will feel calmer, relaxed, and refreshed (and possibly asleep!).
Friday is the day that Lisa-Jo inspires us to write creatively and unedited for 5 minutes. Every week there is a prompt which everyone uses to stimulate those little grey cells, and it’s amazing to me the variety of writing which results!
To participate or read other ‘grasp’ posts, click the image:
Now for my 5 minutes worth…
“A woman’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I know that’s a misquotation, but it gives me an idea of how to approach this topic. My grasp is what I have now, what I hold onto, what is comfortable for me. If I stick with what I can grasp right now, then my life will be stagnant, and even worse, it will begin to diminish and grow steadily smaller.Continue reading Five-Minute Friday — Grasp
I have usually tried to follow my own path, even though sometimes it was not in my best interest. My hobbies, my music, my clothing, even my thoughts and feelings, were often chosen with the distinct purpose of being different.
I felt that the only way I would ever be noticed was to be eccentric.
Otherwise, I thought, I would just fade into the background.
Sometimes I wanted to fade away, and at those times I went along with the crowd, concealing what was truly inside me. But I always felt like a stranger, a part of the world but separated from it by an invisible membrane. Even when I tried, there was something in between me and everyone else. Whether I fought against it or lived with it, it was always there.
Now I have a son who, I think, has grown up with a membrane around him too. He makes choices with an eye to getting attention, even if it is negative attention. In fact, he prefers the negative because he doesn’t feel worthy of anything else.
I look at him and wonder, how will I ever reach him? How can I help him see that he doesn’t have to be separate, or a stranger, or a person that just doesn’t fit in? How can I invite him to become a part of our world?
Perhaps I will have to push through my membrane in order to get through his. I’m scared, but for his sake, I will face my fears.