Mindfulness, Reinvigorated

You ever get to a place in your life that you swore up and down that you wanted to be at?

pup1

Once you got there, the idealized expectation of whatever that place/thing/person was kind of deflates?

Yeah, me too.

I’m on this journey with all of you and some days, I get to know myself a little bit better. Occasionally, what I find is so darn surprising, that I just don’t know what to think. I want to ponder, I want to understand what’s going on, but I’m so in the process… that I get slapped on the back of the head by some things.

It’s kind of refreshing, actually. As a therapist, there’s this pressure – both internal and external – to have it all figured out. I certainly think I’m way ahead of the curve, but some days, I’m humbled, I’m surprised, and frankly, I’m excited by the fact that… no, I don’t have it all figured out.

We can look at the valleys in our lives, the lack of knowledge of ourselves, or whatever sneaky things creep up from time-to-time as burdens.

 pup2

Or, we can look at them as opportunities.

I, like many of you, sometimes turn opportunities into ugly things. I make them bars to raise, expectations to defy, and all those other things that high achievers do.

While it often serves me in being “successful” (in it’s most traditional, externalized definition), sometimes I forget to do the cliche thing like stop, look around, and smell the roses.

pup3

So, for the next month, I’m looking at everything as an opportunity. I’m going to do my darndest to not label any opportunity as “good” or “bad”. I am going to learn from my experiences, not try to outsmart them or turn them into things to conquer, things to master, or things to keep or discard. I’m going to practice mindfulness. Join me?

Faults

I’m weird about food.

Like, I love it. Maybe a little too much. I eat healthy, I exercise, and I’m in great shape. But, have a pretty dicey relationship with portion control. Heck, forget about applying portion control to food, I have a hard time with it in my life. I want more, more, more.

I’ve talked with Jesse about it – he lives with me, he sees how much I love food. It’s so amazing. I love cooking because I flow when I cook. I don’t think, I just create, and I’m pretty good at it. I mean, what’s better than making a masterpiece and then EATING IT? Nothing.

I’m also always cold. Always. Maybe it’s my thyroid, maybe it’s my tiny hands with their tiny veins trying to regulate my regular-sized body, but I’m just cold. Fingers are popsicles, toes are ice cubes. Playing footsie with me can be a risk to your health. I’m a miserable person to be around when I’m cold.

I’m also kind of moody. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s my thyroid (gosh, darnit thyroid – such a pain). I can go from being really happy to really bummed depending on what happened and bounce back in a heartbeat. I’m mercurial. I’ve always been this way.

I catastrophize. It hasn’t been sunny here in like, I don’t know, forever (see: dramatic). I sat in front of the heater last night in my workout clothes, waiting for Jesse to be ready to work out, and I just pouted. It was late, I was hungry, I didn’t want to work out and it would be like… I don’t know, 1.5 hours until we ate dinner after workout + shower? I hadn’t seen the sun in ages, my skin is dry and cold, and OH MY GOODNESS EVERYTHING IS AWFUL.

Then I cooked, showered, and ate (did I mention I suffer from hanger? (hunger + anger)), I got my new electric blanket, I poured myself a glass of wine, added in some holiday cookies and all was right [enough] with the world. I was back to being pleasant and lovely.

Why am I sharing this with you? One, because I’m not perfect and I’m not happy all the time. I AM A HUMAN BEING. It’s nuts. I’m also just a tough pill to swallow, even for myself. Part of being a therapist is trying to not be mad at yourself when you’re being a crappy human and you can’t help it. Sometimes I eat too many cookies, sometimes I’m hangry, sometimes I’m cold and there’s nothing that can be done about it, and sometimes I’m irritated that I’m irritable and I just can’t (or don’t want to) snap out of it.

But these are things I’m actively working on to be better at. I am light-years beyond where I was three years ago. Nowadays, I feel capable of working on these things, including forgiving myself for being so human. I’m so hard on myself, I worry (while in mid-catastrophizing about everything) that Jesse will be mad at me, or resent me for being unpleasant. Let’s review that tidbit of knowledge: I’m already upset about being upset, but then I’m more upset because I don’t want my partner to be mad at me for being mad. It’s exhausting.

I think about all these issues I want to work on. I think about how much I love cookies and I look at people who intuitively eat almost always and I get down on myself. Then I think, “Why do I behave like this? Why are the cookies so important?” I find my answer. Then I’m empowered with the strength to solve the problem – the cause of the cookie binge – with something healthier than three cookies. Maybe it’s one cookie and something to erase my boredom, because let’s face it – I will never be a woman who says no to at least one cookie.

My health is harder. What do I do, just wear 40 jackets and say, “Oh it’s my thyroid making me moody! I should stop”? Um, that’s hard to do. Just stop feeling a certain way in a nanosecond? I don’t think so. But, you know what? When I know why I feel a certain way, it takes a lot of power out of the negative feeling because again – there’s a solution somewhere in there.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because it’s my blog and sometimes I like to share my vulnerabilities because I know I’m not alone. I know you guys out there have issues with eating too many cookies and beating yourself up about it, sometimes. I know we’re all wrestling with being imperfect, which makes me feel normal. I also know sometimes it seems like I have it all figured out. I don’t and frankly, what a boring life that would be.

I always make a New Year’s Resolution, but I also do this. I sit and think about how I can improve on my life. How can I be a better person for myself and for others? Where are my areas for improvement that I can make a priority for active change? It’s empowering.

So today, I will probably finish off the rest of the cookies I baked and then not buy any at the store for a few months. That will limit my cookie intake. I will layer better, keeping my core warmer. I will call my doctor about my thyroid medication and tell her I’m feeling weird and moody, more so than usual. I’ll wear mittens, I’ll kiss my wonderful boyfriend because he tolerates the grumpy and adores the pleasant things about me, I’ll write this blog post, and I’ll feel connected with you guys because hey – we’re all in this together.

The Case Files: Sandy Hook

I generally stay pretty quiet when tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting occur. I feel it’s best to reflect upon what has happened and honor the lives of people I didn’t know personally by not saying much of anything. Some of this is because I feel words cannot begin to describe the place I am mentally. Other reasons involve my own profession, as a therapist, where I feel so much professional and personal emotion, that I just don’t know where to begin.

As a therapist, it is my job to understand every person’s point of view. Not only understand, like how you look at another human being and go, “Oh man, I bet it would be tough to walk in their shoes,” but to look at that other person and be brought to tears because instinctively you know how it feels to be in that person’s shoes. Call it empathy, call it a sixth sense, I may not have worn the shoes you’re in, but I feel the experience as if I was in your skin.

So in this case, I feel overwhelmed. I begin to imagine the parents, heartbroken, learning they will never hold their child again. It makes me scared to ever be a mother, because I can’t imagine having something I love that much walking around in the world outside of me. Then, I imagine how Nancy Lanza felt as Adam’s mother. I read articles like this one, and I know how these women feel. It doesn’t mean they are right or wrong, they just feel a certain way about their life circumstances in relation to this tragedy.

Then I see pictures like this one:

Then, my Facebook feed blows up about laws for gun control and mental health care and I just get exhausted. I’m exhausted because sometimes, I care too much. I care too much about people like Adam Lanza, a boy I didn’t know and by all accounts, plenty of people think he is a monster. I mistakenly get in conversations with people about the state of the mental health care system in this country. For every need I express, someone explains to me why people like Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, or any of the other mentally disturbed shooters in this country could not be helped.

So I continue to reflect and this time, I will share my inner dialogue with you all and let you see it from my perspective. Here’s what I’ve got:

Part of it is the awareness piece. Plenty of people don’t know how fragile their mental state is because they have never had an experience with an internal dialogue that resembles what you might deem ‘normal’. Then, they have to recognize that they are unwell and ask for help. If they don’t, then their family members, who have their own problems as a result of their own personal struggles caring for mental instability (or fighting their own fractured thoughts and feelings) are responsible. Even then, we still get to pass the buck to “the system”, one that I think we can all agree is garbage, but who will fix it? Once it’s fixed, who will use it? It’s not just Adam Lanza who needed help, it’s his family, it’s now the families of those hurt by his actions, it’s our fear as a nation, and it’s the stigma associated with seeking help. Mental health is not a routine check-up in this country and I think that is ultimately the problem and the solution.

If only… if only… we had the resources to go to a mental health professional as often as we go to our primary care physician, without the fear of shame or judgement for such acts. We could stop passing the buck (I believe, for the most part) and let qualified professionals assess our minds, feeling a freedom to share how we are feeling, thinking, and experiencing our world. We would have greater opportunities to connect with those who have our parallel struggles – learning we are not alone – and we’d also gain a freedom to actively work on our issues, bringing to light what we are working on in our own minds, allowing others to support our processes to becoming better humans and a better society. We’d feel less isolated and we would have a system of support in place, so people like Nancy Lanza, would not be the only person making decisions about the mental health of her child.

I thought about how I shouldn’t say these things about mental health. How much I will be crucified for commenting on this experience while people are still grieving. Maybe it’s just my agenda I’m promoting, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m pretty sure that after this, our country would like to see something change for the better in regards to how we treat and care for people like Adam and Nancy Lanza, because it is my hope, that then we wouldn’t have to treat those injured by Adam, those whose children were murdered by Adam, or those who watched Adam Lanza kill their loved ones.

I believe we would have less work to do because those mental wounds could be prevented. The ripple effect would be calmer, rather than a tidal wave eclipsing everyone’s future. We would hopefully be in control of our outcomes, rather than just waiting for another round of chaos to all shrug our shoulders and go, “We should really look at how we regulate gun control and treat mental illness in our country,” and then do nothing about it except shake our fists at the sky.

As some would argue with me (and they have) – life is chaos. We can’t see the future and this isn’t the first or last tragedy of this kind that our country – or our world – will witness. I agree. This might happen again, but I’d like to feel differently about how we handled it as a nation. I’d like to know we are actively working on preventing these tragedies. I’d like to feel that maybe it was a little less destructive because we adapted, changing our laws about weapons and changing our behaviors surrounding mental wellness. I just want action, but I feel like writing these words is the same as shaking my own fist at the sky.

I don’t know what else to do though, other than to keep clacking at these keys, working with my own clients, cutting out my sliver in the universe that hopefully ripples back into moments like this one, where I feel so helpless. What are we all doing to change the current of this tragedy and redirect our energy towards fixing this problem? It’s a question I am asking myself as a mental health counselor and as a citizen of this country. It’s dominating my thoughts and I want to know that when I retire from this field, things will be different and the world will be closer to the one I imagined in this moment than how far it feels today.