Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Being Powerless

We all want to be in control.  Sometimes we feel like we're succeeding, like we've got a handle on life and things are going the way we planned.

And then something comes out of the blue and smacks us in the head with a two by four and walks away giggling, knowing it has power over us.  We sit.  Dazed.  Trying to figure out what's going on.  Trying to get our bearings.  Trying to figure out what our next step should be.

I'm still dazed.

Two days ago our family received some scary medical information, an initial diagnosis.  My 19-year old daughter has a Chiari malformation in her skull which is putting pressure on her brain.  It was a whirlwind day of exam, MRI, diagnosis.  Now we are in a holding pattern, waiting to see a neurosurgeon and make a plan.

It's left me feeling very powerless.  Powerless against the insurance company that won't pay for the specialist our doctor wants us to see but insists on sending us to a different one.  Powerless against the schedule of the specialist that leaves us waiting for days before we can even schedule to meet to get any more answers.  Powerless against the emotions it's churning up in my family.  And powerless to change what is.

It's been a rough couple of days.  And the rough times aren't over.  They are probably just beginning.  I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I should do, how I can deal with it, how I feel.  I'm riding tumultuous waves of okay and freaked out.

But, for just this minute, I'm done focusing on what I'm powerless against.  Right this minute I want to focus on the power I still have.  I still have the power to decide how I'm going to face this.  And that matters.

I'm not going to put my life on hold.  I'm not going to drop all other responsibilities.  I'm not going to obsess.  I'm going to do the best I can to live my life while waiting.

And I'm going to practice what I preach and be kind to myself. 

When others tell me about difficult things they're going through, especially transitions, I ask them to be kind to themselves.  I ask them to allow themselves to feel what they need to feel and not judge themselves for it.  I ask them to give themselves time to make decisions, to not force them just because someone else wants an immediate answer.  I ask them to practice good self-care.  I ask them to be as kind to themselves as they would to a dear friend if they were the ones going through this.

So this is my game plan.  I'm going to live my life as normally as I can.  I am going to drop everything and cry when I need to.  Then I'm going to pick it back up again.  I am going to take care of myself.  I am going to respect the feelings of my family members but not feel accountable to fix those feelings.  I am not going to project all the possibilities at this point.  I'm going to wait for further information.  If it's going to get ugly in the future, I'm going to let that be in the future.  I'm not going to let the possibility of future stress ruin now.

We're going to get through this.  We're going to be okay.  But I'm not willing to wait.  I'm not going to sit and wallow in the toxic stew of powerlessness.  I'm choosing to be okay now.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why I Go to Therapy (and write about it)

Sometimes I get the perfect question at the perfect time.  This is one of those times.

Today I received an anonymous comment with a question.  I wanted to reply immediately with a long, detailed email; but since it was anonymous I couldn't.  I thought about responding via the comment section, but that didn't feel right either.

Normally, I would ask someone's permission before ever using their words.  In this case, I hope it's okay that I forgo that.  The question was structured beautifully and I don't think it contains any information that would reveal who the questioner is.  But the question is important.

"Miss Robin,

My partner and I are struggling with the realization that there may be a hidden traumatic event in my partner's past.  We hope not, but we both agree that there is anger, which comes from hurt that is being directed at the opposite sex in general and at me most in particular.

My partner is very afraid of the possibility that something very bad is there, but is probably more afraid to find out that there is nothing other than verbal and emotional abuse.  That would maybe be worse because then why so much negative energy attached to it.

The biggest concern is that my partner doesn't believe that anyone he/she knows has been helped in any lasting way by therapy, in fact it usually seems to only get worse by opening those deep wounds.

This session of yours makes one wonder.  Can you help by offering your best reasons as to why a person should be willing to subject themselves to such intensive introspection and the resultant pain?"

I can't begin to express how honored I am to receive this question.  Any time someone is willing to open their heart and share their fears, I am in awe.  It is such a difficult thing.  This question moved me to tears.

First, let me say emotional and verbal abuse are very serious things.  They are incredibly damaging to the soul, often more so than being hit.  If you are anywhere near my age or older, you were probably raised with the "sticks and stones" mentality.  Generation after generation perpetuated this lie.  Words can hurt you.  We are finally getting to a point as a society that we recognize this.  This is why things like online bullying can now be prosecuted.  But if you are like me, no one in your life ever tried to help you heal from verbal assaults.  In fact, you may have even been told by your abuser (as I was), "There's no such thing as emotional abuse."  This is a lie.  The sticks and stones mentality is another way to punish the victim for being hurt, as if it's their fault.

I'm so sorry you and your partner are struggling (because we struggle together).  I don't know if there's a traumatic event buried.  I don't know how to tell you to find out.  I'm not a therapist or trained in any of this.  But I do consider myself somewhat of an expert at going to therapy, so I'll answer that.

Traumatic events are like slivers.  We can try to pretend they aren't there, they may or may not work themselves out, but usually we have to remove them in order to heal.  We can ignore them for a while, but something will happen that causes us to bump one and it will hurt.  Especially if it was serious and it's now infected.  We knew it should be taken care of but thought we could tough it out.  Or we didn't want to make a big deal out of it.  Or we didn't want to seem weak.

The only thing I regret about therapy is not starting sooner.

I was scared.  I was fairly certain after one session the therapist would tell me I was making a big deal out of nothing and didn't need to come back.  I was embarrassed.  I felt like a failure.  And I was terrified that if I opened up and let go of the white knuckle hold I had on things I would fall apart.  I'd accidentally opened things up once or twice before and it was horrific.  I couldn't shut it down and it controlled me for days, weeks, or longer.  I was afraid I'd find some horrible memory and I'd have to confront someone about it and it would get ugly.  I was afraid of being weak.  I was afraid of needing someone else.  I was afraid of trusting someone else.  I was afraid of feeling again, because then I'd be vulnerable.

But that's not what happened.  The therapist listened and validated me.  I felt safe in a way I hadn't ever felt before.  My feelings were honored. 

Working with a trained therapist is different than talking with a friend about a problem.  When I start to get to an unsafe place, a friend will hug me and cry with me but doesn't know how to stop the avalanche of emotions that's pulling me under.  A therapist does.  He can talk me through it.  He can teach me how to find my own way through it.  It's kind of like walking through a dark house when you're scared but having a cop with a gun and night-vision goggles as your guide. 

It is hard to open up.  And it's still scary for me sometimes.  But I have never regretted it.  Not once.  I have regretted telling someone else in my life, someone I thought was safe who turned out not to be.  But never have I regretted sharing anything with my therapist.

Traumatic experiences mess us up because our brains don't know how to process awful things that happen, especially if we were children when they happened.  Through therapy a memory can be brought out, looked at, re-framed, and put away neatly.  I know it doesn't make sense that just talking to someone can make things better, but when it's the right someone who knows what they're doing it works.  I promise.

Does your partner need therapy?  Do you?  I don't know.  What I do know is that it's been wonderful for me.  Without therapy I would no longer be married.  Without therapy my husband could very well be in jail due to ramifications of his rage.  And without therapy I would live in constant fear and stress.

I am stronger.  I am gentler.  And I have much more peace in my soul.  I feel more complete.  I feel more content.  I believe in myself.  My heart is lighter and more open.  My life is easier because I went to therapy.

Even after my last session, when things went badly, I highly recommend therapy.  My therapist is just a person.  And as with any relationship, sometimes there are communication problems that cause pain.  The key is whether or not you can work through it.  We are.  The amount of calm I felt after his phone call amazed me.  No matter how often I am healed through a therapy session it still amazes me.

Listen to your heart.  If you are religious, pray.  And listen.  You will know if therapy is a good choice for you (your partner must decide for him/herself).  Chances are life has caused you to doubt your own intuition, but your heart knows.

If you go and don't connect well with your therapist, I suggest trying someone else.  One bad experience doesn't mean therapy won't work.  It might just mean you didn't fit with that person.  There are lots of therapists out there.  You need one you feel comfortable with, because therapy is an emotionally intimate thing.  Don't think one session will fix it all.  It takes time. 

And if it doesn't feel right, you don't need to continue.  I have a friend who says therapy didn't work for her.  She had to work it all out with God.  I think of myself as a pretty spiritual person with a good relationship with God and I couldn't do it that way.  I needed therapy.

I hope this answers your question satisfactorily.  Please feel free to ask more.  And thank you so much for being brave enough to offer the question.  I am honored.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

A Possibility of Healing

This post is a follow up to yesterday's post, A Bad Therapy Session.

Yesterday I wrote about the pain.  About the trauma of a bad session.  About trying to decide what to do next.  About being unsure of whether or not I could continue to work with my present therapist.

What I didn't say was how badly I wanted to continue with him.  I wanted everything to be better.  I knew that we could work through things.  But I was absolutely not okay with spending another $100 to make it all better.  I was not okay with paying for another session so we could work through his mistake.

I wondered if I was just being stubborn.  After thinking about it a while and realizing the only way I could go back was if he agreed to work through it without it costing me anything, I wondered if I was being self-righteous and unfair.  But I don't think I was.

I was saying that my time matters.  That I deserve to get what I pay for.  That we are equals.  That just because I come to him for help it doesn't mean I have to gratefully accept whatever pittance he decides to grace me with.  I was saying I matter.

So that was my decision.  After lots of thought and prayer, I knew that was the only condition under which I could go back to work with him and still honor myself.

I expected him to call in response to my letter.  I didn't know what I'd do if the time came for my next appointment and I hadn't heard from him.  Luckily, I didn't have to find out.

He called today.

My phone rang.  I looked at the number and knew it was him.  I'd been expecting this but still wasn't ready.  I couldn't talk to him until I knew where he stood.  I just wasn't okay enough.  I wasn't even sure I could get any words out if I tried.  So I let the call go to voicemail.

He thanked me for my letter.  He thanked me for being open and forthright.  (There was even a note of what a great therapeutic accomplishment it was for me.)  He said he was sorry for "blowing" our last session (his word).  He said sometimes this happens.  When it does, he likes to offer a do-over.  Another session, as soon as possible, without charge.  He said he understood I wasn't sure if I was going to come back.  He said he would like me to.  He said he could make time this week to see me if I wanted to give it another try.  He asked that I call him back to see if we could set up a time.

After listening to his voicemail, I cried.  Kind of a lot.  He'd said exactly what I was hoping for.  He was the person I thought he was.  He honored the importance of my feelings.  He made me feel of value -- like an equal.

Even still, I couldn't call him right away.  I couldn't speak yet.  It was about 45 minutes before I could call, which made it a little after 5:00.  I knew there was a chance he'd be gone for the day and I'd get his voicemail.  I was even kind of hoping to.  I wasn't sure I could converse.  And I did get his voicemail.

As I listened to his outgoing message, I felt a bit of relief.  I could just leave a simple message and that would be that.  Only it wasn't that easy.  I began to speak and got choked up.  I pushed through the tears to say what I needed to say.  I told him he'd said the only thing that would have convinced me to try again.  I told him I could try.  I asked him to call me back with scheduling options.

It's not all better, but it's a start.  And it's not starting over.  Which I just don't think I could have done right now.

But for the first time in over a week, I feel like there's a possibility of healing.  Like maybe the healing has begun.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Bad Therapy Session

It happens.  Sometimes a therapy session is just a waste of time.  Sometimes this is my fault.  Sometimes it's my therapist's fault.  Sometimes it's a mix.

But this time it was bad.  This time it was wounding.

I usually see him every two weeks.  This time, due to a scheduling problem, it was a month between visits.  I'm sure this contributed.

My last visit was rough.  My PTSD had been triggered.  I finally revealed to him an incredibly difficult memory from my past -- the memory that's held more power over me than anything else.  Ever.  One I only have vague images of.  One that's left painful muscle memories.  One I've been cautioned not to share openly because it could be dangerous for me.  One that causes me to feel like a small child and to cramp terribly.

It was a very intense session for me.  He listened and validated me.  He helped get me through the worst of the PTSD.  We formed a plan for working through it.  He assured me that I could heal from this even without the entire memory.  I left that session hopeful.

Over the course of the next month my PTSD was triggered two more times; my husband went through two anger cycles; I went through a deep, week-long depression; and I had a two-hour conversation with my mom which triggered that memory again.  That dark and painful and frightening memory.

I spent a few days cramping badly, my uterus and my back, almost like labor.  Constant.  No relief from anything I took.  And I knew it was directly related to this memory.

I knew I had a session coming up.  I knew we were going to work on it and I would feel better afterward.  I held on.

But the session didn't help.  I gave him a quick recap of the month and told him I was ready to work.  I needed to work so the pain would go away.  And he went a different direction.  He wanted to focus on something else.  It's not that he was trying to avoid what I wanted to talk about.  It's that he didn't remember.  I tried to redirect it a couple of times, but since he didn't remember that memory I had revealed last time, he thought he knew best what we should work on.

Sometimes I am strong and when he goes off on a tangent or chit chats too much I can pull it back where I need it to be.  This time I couldn't.  Like I said, this memory makes me feel like a little girl.  I am hesitant and scared and timid.  All I can do is politely go along.

When we had about ten minutes left, he asked what direction we should go next.  I reminded him of what had happened last time.  And I could tell he immediately realized his mistake.   And it was too late to do any work on it.  In reminding him about it, I had reopened it.  I was raw and crying.  He tried to salvage things.  He tried to give me something to work on before our next session.  And I did my best to reign in my emotions.  Our time was up.  I had to leave the office.  And I was trying not to make him feel bad.

But I was not okay.  I made it out of the office and twenty yards down the hall to the bathroom before I crumpled to the floor sobbing.  I got it under control enough to leave the bathroom and practically ran to my car, hoping no one would notice my red eyes and shaky breathing and ask if I was okay.  Once in my car the sobbing returned, stronger.  I sobbed in a way I have only done once or twice since I was a child.  Gut wrenching sobs.  Devastated cries from deep within me.

Over the next few days there was a lot of crying.  And there was still the intense physical pain.  But worse than that all my old, unhealthy coping mechanisms reasserted themselves.  Things I thought were in my past.  Things I thought I'd overcome.  Things I thought no longer had any power over me.  They suddenly slammed me to the ground and repeatedly kicked me.

My husband and I went out a few days later.  As we drove I told him about the session.  After approximately 10 minutes of yelling and swearing, I had to admit I was angry.  And it wasn't getting any better.  So when I got home I wrote my therapist a letter. 

I told him what the experience was like from my side.  I told him how difficult it is to know I only have one hour every two weeks.  I told him how hard I prepare for that hour so I can use it wisely.  I told him it costs me $100 every session because our insurance doesn't pay for it.  I told him it's a real sacrifice to pay that, but when it's necessary and helpful I am okay with it.  I told him I felt like he'd stolen from my family that day.  I told him that session wounded me because at such a vulnerable time he didn't listen to me.  And I wasn't strong enough to fight him if he wouldn't listen to me.  I told him I wasn't sure if I'd be able to come back.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to work on this with him after all.  I'm not sure he's a safe person for me anymore.

And then I took the letter to his office and gave it to the lady at the front desk.

I have not heard from him.

I have a little over a week until my next appointment.  I'm examining my options.  I've spent a lot of time trying to decide if I will go back.  I know he sees lots of patients.  I know it was a month in between visits.  I know he's human and makes mistakes, like we all do.  And I can forgive those things. 

But forgiving them doesn't take away the wound.  If you hit me with a rock and then apologize, I will forgive you.  But the bruise will remain.  It will take time to heal.  And any time I see you with a rock in the future I will worry about whether or not you're going to hurt me.

Unfortunately, our session was the rock.

**********

If you read this post, please read A Possibility of Healing for the resolution.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

A Sex Offender in the Neighborhood

Being a landlord is tough.  We've owned a rental for a dozen years now.  Each time we need to rent it out, it's incredibly stressful.  Will the people we pick take care of our house?  Will they be good to the neighbors?  Will they pay their rent on time? 

And since our rental is in the same neighborhood where we live, it adds another dimension of stress.  They will be our neighbors.  Their neighbors will be our neighbors.  If there are problems, we will hear about it and feel obligated to try to smooth things out.  The house is about two blocks away.  We all go to the same church.

Whenever it comes available I have neighbors and friends asking that we pick good church members who will add to our ward (parish).  Or requesting that we choose someone with young kids so their kids can have new friends to play with.  Or any of a number of other criteria.

I'm not going to lie.  My two biggest concerns are whether or not they will take care of our house and if they will pay their rent on time.  I want good people who aren't going to cause headaches for the neighborhood, and thereby for me, but that's just bonus.

A while back we had a sweet, young woman renting from us.  She'd had a rough life and was working to get back on her feet.  She was on state housing, so we knew we'd get our money.  We liked her.  And we've often used our rental as a way to help people get back on their feet.   We sometimes rent to people others turn down.  We work with someone when they lose their job.  We believe we are blessed and feel honored that we can help people find a jumping off point.

While this girl was sweet and good with our house, her brother wasn't.  He manipulated his way into her house, our house, and proceeded to use it for ill.  (We later found out he was dealing drugs from there.)  It came to a point that we needed to ask her to leave.  But that's a tricky thing.  We wanted to do it kindly, partly for her and partly so the house wouldn't get trashed.  I knew she was in a difficult place and was unsure how to handle it.  I prayed and prayed for about a week seeking direction.

Then one day my husband called.  Our close family friends were getting kicked out of their place.  Would I consider renting to them?

I run the rental.  The choice was left up to me.  And he knows I generally have a rule about not renting to family or friends because I worry about what it will do to our relationship.  But this time was different.  This time felt like an answer to prayer.  I could explain to our renter that we couldn't renew her contract because we had friends who needed our house.  Turns out, she was looking for a way out.  It worked out perfectly on both ends.  (Although her brother and his friends did trash the house the weekend before she moved out, while she was out of town.)

There was just one possible problem.  This close family friend is a registered sex offender.  In fact, that's why they were being kicked out of their rental.  A neighbor had found out and complained to the landlord.  And that was that.

But it still felt right to offer them our house.

We'd known these friends since long before his crime.  He made a horrible, stupid mistake.  He did an awful thing.  It was quickly reported and he was arrested almost immediately.  He served five years in prison.  We watched his family try to rebuild.  Try to put their lives back together.  Try to get past the shame, knowing that at any time someone might find out what their dad had done, what her husband had done.  He had lots of therapy while in prison.  He worked hard to change who he was.  They worked hard as a family. 

Over the years afterward we watched as things would go well for a while and then someone would find out.  Maybe the kids would need to switch schools because of the unkind things people were saying.  Maybe they would get in fights due to the verbal bullying that followed.  Maybe they would be treated as second class citizens by their neighbors and fellow ward members, those who called themselves Christians.

I understand the fear.  I was a victim of sexual assault.  More than once.  And I am a mother who has always worried about this happening to my children.

But I also believe in the power to change.  I believe in redemption.  I believe in second chances.  And I believe we must constantly watch and protect our kids because most sexual predators are not labelled because they've never been caught.

After a bit more prayer, I decided we should offer them our house.  I knew there was potential for uproar.  I tend to be proactive when I can so I went to those I thought would be most affected and let them know in advance that he would be coming.

I have a few friends in the neighborhood that I knew had been victims of sexual assault.  I started with them.  They thanked me for the warning but said they just kind of treat everyone like they're a possible predator, so they weren't too worried.  They're always careful.  I went to the immediate neighbors of our rental and warned them.  They thanked me, asked some questions, and said they trusted my judgment and would see how things went.  I didn't go to everyone in the neighborhood.  I didn't want to sour the neighborhood completely against our friends before they even got there.  But I knew it would be found out eventually and wanted to head it off if I could.

I was confronted by a couple of neighbors who had great concerns.  One because of a daycare she runs from her home.  How would this affect her business?  The other because she'd been the victim of sexual assault and it still had great power over her.  They asked if I would meet with them so they could express their concerns.  I agreed.  I'm afraid we had a different idea of what the meeting was for.  I expected to answer their questions and try to alleviate some of their fears.  They were hoping to convince me to change my mind.  The meeting took about an hour.  There were a lot of tears.  There was, "How can you look at him and not see the man who assaulted you?"  And there was anger.

I expressed my feeling that this was an answer to my prayers.  How could I ever ask God for help again if I turned away from this help just because it was hard?  I was told by one of these women that whatever voices I was listening to they were definitely not of God.  It was tough.

A few days later I was contacted by our bishop (pastor).  He wanted to express his concern that it could tear our ward apart.  He was also concerned for the well being of this neighbor who was in such a bad way over it all.  I listened and cried.  But I told him it felt right in my heart.  I told him I thought he was underestimating the people in our ward.  And I told him that even if every member of the ward turned against me, I couldn't ignore an answer to my prayer.  It was more important to me that God approved than that my neighbors did.  I apologized for the extra stress this was likely to cause him.  He said not to worry about it.  He hugged me and told me he believed in me and appreciated my conviction.  He said we'd get through it.

And we did.

Most of the neighborhood was incredibly kind to them.  They were welcomed and befriended.  They were not judged for anything in their past.  They made friends here.

The one neighbor never did get beyond it.  She called the police on them multiple times with nuisance complaints.  None of these ever came to anything except visits from policemen checking things out.  Our renters were kind and understanding about this.  They did their best to keep their distance from her.

These friends who rented from us have since moved on.  They still struggle to find acceptance.  The label of sex offender will be forever upon him (and will affect her and their family).  At any time someone may find out and then decide to make life even more difficult for them.  I'm glad they had their time with us.  I'm glad they felt accepted by many for at least a short time.

The one neighbor who told me I was of Satan still hasn't forgiven me.  She still won't look at me if we find ourselves in the same place.  She has never talked to me again.  And that's okay.  She has great pain and fear inside her still.  She has not had the therapy and healing that I've had.  Her life is difficult.  If she needs to see me as her enemy, I can honor that.  I have offered many prayers in her behalf.

But I know renting to our friends was the right thing to do.  Helping people get a fresh start is my favorite way to use our rental.  And all of this was validated when their closest neighbor came to me after they'd left and said, "Thank you for teaching us a lesson in compassion.  They were wonderful neighbors."

End of lesson.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

I Have a Voice. And I Have Courage.

As long as I can remember my mother has been comparing me to my father.  "Of all the children, you are most like your dad," she would say.  I have probably heard this from her more than a hundred times.  And I hated it every time she said it.  Especially when I felt controlled and demeaned by my dad.  When I saw him as loveless.  Unable to care.  Mean.  I hated that she saw me this way.

But that isn't what she meant.  This past week, as she spent two hours talking about awful things in her life and I listened, I finally knew what she meant.  She saw me as strong.  She saw me as courageous.  She was so proud of the fact that I can speak.  She is amazed that I am able to say what I want.  She envies that I have learned to stand up for myself.  And others.

That, I'll take.

It's been hard work, especially in the issues with my dad.  Learning to stand up to him has been more difficult than I can express.  Learning to speak when I know others may not want to hear what I have to say has been tough.  Even now, when I do it so much more, it's still hard.

But I believe speaking and courage are gifts I have.  I believe it is my duty to use these gifts for the benefit of others.  That is why I have fought so hard to develop them.  I am still better at using my voice through writing, through the safety of my own home, but I am getting better at opening my mouth and speaking when it matters.  And when it's wise.  (Teasing a snake isn't brave; it's foolish.)

Today I feel compelled to use my voice to share some truths.  It's much easier to say I believe than to say I know.  Today I must share some things I know.

I know that you are important.  I know that your tiny presence in this world matters.  I know that you affect more than you know.  I know that you are worth many times more than you believe you are.  I know that you deserve a good life.  I know that the hard times in your life strengthen you, even when you don't see it.  I know that you have a good work to do.

I know that I matter.  I know that speaking truth matters.  I know that I have strengths and wisdom I am unaware of.  I know that allowing God to work through me makes the best use of these strengths and wisdom.

I know there is a God.  I know that He is our Father.  I know it as surely as I know that I breathe.  As clearly as I feel air enter and leave my lungs, I feel His presence in my life.  I have two-way conversations with God.  I speak.  I listen.  He speaks.  He listens.  He strengthens me that I may continue to do hard things.

I know being kind matters.  I know our hearts are happier when we exercise them more, when we love openly.  I know strengthening others strengthens me.  I know lifting others lifts me.

I know God is aware of me.  I know He loves me.  I know He is aware of and loves you, too.  I know He communicates with us even when we don't hear Him.  I know it's worth it to keep trying to hear Him.

I know He is there in the darkness.  I know He would take away all our pain and suffering and trials if that were best for us.  I know He allows our hard times because, like a loving parent watching a child receive an inoculation, He knows more than us and knows what will help us combat all that life has in store.

I know that whether you agree with me or not you are so important.  I know you have the ability to change the world.  I know your voice matters.

Please don't think this was easy for me.  It's difficult to testify.  I have been ridiculed and punished for my beliefs many times in my life, often by people I loved.  But the fact that it's hard will not stop me from speaking.  Because it matters.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Taking Stock of My Progress

It's a good idea to take stock of life every now and then.  I tend to get so focused on the mountain ahead I still have to climb that I forget to look back at how far I've come.  I don't take that moment to look out over the view I've already got because I'm so fixated on getting to the top.  And then I just get frustrated and down on myself.  Plus, if I don't take stock, I don't realize I've left the trail entirely and wandered.

So tonight I'm taking stock.  It's been almost a year since I went to the psychiatrist and she basically told me to change my entire life.  Okay, not really, but it felt like that.  I took it seriously.  I worked really hard at it.  Where am I now?

Let's break it down to the different areas she wanted me to work on:
Sleep:  I am getting more sleep.  I am going to bed earlier (not consistently at the same time, but consistently earlier).  I used to be up until 1 or 2 almost every night, frequently 3 or 4.  I then got up to get the kids off to school and crawled back into bed for a nap -- every day.  Now I shut down for the night around 11:30 or 12 (earlier many nights) and am up at seven.  I get the kids up and off.  Sometimes I go back to bed for a nap, but not every day.  And the waking at seven is consistent.  Even on weekends I wake about that time, without an alarm.  My body is becoming conditioned to it.  It even lasted through the summer last year.  Instead of seeing how well I'm doing, I've been noticing the occasional naps and the inconsistent bedtimes and feeling ashamed of myself.  I really am getting much more sleep and have made great progress toward undoing a lifetime of bad habits.  To the point where my family is feeling the effects.  Most nights our house is completely shut down (lights off, most of us asleep) by 9:30 or 10.  On the weekends it might be 11 or 11:30.  For a house full of teenagers who used to routinely stay up until 11 or later on school nights and whenever during the summer, it's incredible progress.  We are night owls by nature, but we've fought that nature and tamed it enough to be healthy.

Water:  I'm drinking more.  For a long time I was hitting that 96 ounces a day religiously.  I've slipped a bit.  I'm working on this one.  Seriously, the hardest part is to remember to take my water bottle to the kitchen with me and fill it up.  If I get back to my room and realize I didn't, I'll usually just put it off.  That means I don't hit my total for the day.  And, no, my kitchen isn't that far from my room.  It's a very poor excuse.  But I am drinking more than I used to and I am working on it.  I have made progress.

Exercise:  She wanted me to walk 20 minutes a day 4-5 times a week.  I suck at this one.  I worked hard at it for a while, but it was making my shins hurt.  I looked it up and realized that my lengthened stride (which I remember training into myself in high school when I spent a lot of time walking with a much taller friend) had to be adjusted back to a natural stride.  This helped.  But I have another problem with exercise (other than the tired and lazy part).  Whenever I do anything physical for more than a few minutes, my face and chest flush.  I go bright red and hot.  Not the traditional exercise overheating.  This can come from simply sweeping.  Even singing does it.  Almost like clockwork, at 20 minutes in I flush.  It's very uncomfortable (the doctor has no idea what this is).  The psychiatrist suggest that I do 2 ten-minute sessions instead.  Yeah, use your logic on me.  Some days I do.  Most days I don't.  Walking outside is less likely (which is too bad because I'm sure the vitamin D from the sun would help).  A bit of dancing with Just Dance 4 on the Wii is more likely.  Even though I'm not where I should be, I am still doing it more than I used to.  Tiny progress, but progress nonetheless.

No soda after 3:00pm, because it interferes with sleep:  Yeah, I kind of completely forgot about this one until I just reread my post from a year ago.  Once I started sleeping better I quit worrying about this.  I may or may not take another look at it.

Food:  I still suck at this.  In a big way.  It's still way too easy for me to not eat.  To forget to eat.  Or to decide it's not worth the work of preparing food.  I'm supposed to eat three meals and three snacks a day.  For months after my visit with her I did this meticulously.  I tracked everything I ate, making sure I was eating every two and a half hours.  Tracking how many servings of vegetables and how many of protein and how many of dairy and so on.  I did fabulously!  Seriously, my therapist and the psychiatrist were pretty much speechless at how well I did and how hard I was working.  And I remember when it fell apart.  My best friend got really sick.  I spent a lot of time in the hospital by her bedside.  I was careful even then.  I packed things to take with me so I wasn't dependent on finding something in the cafeteria.  I was still about 90% compliant with what the psychiatrist wanted.  And after my friend went home and I was no longer spending 8 hours a day taking care of her, I felt like I deserved a break.  I felt like it was okay to relax a bit.  I felt like I had earned a week of not tracking, of not being so careful.  And that week turned into another and another.  I tracked here and there but never really got back on it.  While I work to make healthier choices, I'm not doing fabulously.  There is progress.  I usually eat 2 or 3 meals a day and 1 or 2 snacks.  It used to be 1 meal a day and a snack or two on a good day.  And when I eat junk, I eat less of it.  Usually much less.

But the thing that made me slip up on the food is the same thing that makes me slip in the other areas.  There is still a part of me that says I've earned a break.  When I've worked hard or my life is heavy, I feel like I can stop taking care of myself.  Where does that come from?  When you spell it out like that it doesn't even make sense.  When I've worked hard or my life is heavy, I deserve to take better care of myself.  I deserve more of my attention.  I deserve to feel better.

Because those months when I worked my fanny off on this program, I felt better.  Not healed.  Not healthy.  But better.  I keep forgetting I deserve that.  But now that I've taken stock I remember.

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