Archives for posts with tag: change your practices change your thinking

It was a lovely weekend. That’s definitely how I remember it… and I think that’s a pretty accurate summary. My Traveling Partner and I shared many connected, intimate moments, some productive moments, appreciative moments, encouraging moments… definitely a lovely weekend. We met neighbors from a couple houses down – a byproduct of community, in a community that “does community” pretty well, and where neighbors see each other, and interact. My partner, working on projects in the garage, door open to the breeze, attracted the attention and genial neighborly conversation of passing folk heading to or from the mailboxes on the corner. Conversations were had. Connections made. 🙂 Social distancing rules were observed without awkwardness. (Life in the time of pandemic has rules of its own.)

The weekend was so… ordinary. We cooked, cared for our home, spent time hanging out together, ran a couple errands, started and completed projects. I don’t need “more”; it was rich and fulfilling. It was enough. I took care and time on my self-care, making a point to meditate, to get enough exercise, to eat healthy meals, all of it matters. The day-to-day is more pleasant when I care for myself skillfully.

Every moment a potential new beginning – that’s a promising thought.

I start the week, and the day, with good practices. I shower, soak (meditate while soaking), and go for a comfortable pleasant walk of a bit more than a mile. I watch the sun begin to peak through the trees, from a seat on the deck, while sharing coffee with my Traveling Partner.

A chilly late summer morning, cold toes, warm fire, hot coffee. 🙂

No, there is no “perfect”, and I’m not always certain I’m “making progress” or “achieving success”, but there is this lovely “now”, and endless new beginnings. Right now, that’s enough.

Check this out… it’s already time to begin again. 😉

One of the big motherfucker’s of PTSD is the lasting impact, the lasting change to cognition, implicit memory, patterns of thought – all the things that make up the “D” (disorder) in PTSD. It’s hard. Recognizing the damage done, and the way it holds potential to “call our shots”, in the moment, is one of the enormous challenges involved in healing. It’s a lot of work finding – and maintaining – perspective and balance. I don’t point these things out as someone who has found her way, or has some solution, or is “over it. I point them out because I am still affected, even 39 years later. The worst of it, in the here and now, is the way it affects relationships with people dear to me who were in no way involved in the damage done, who mean me no harm, and indeed wish me well and want to share some piece of life’s journey with me.

Fuck PTSD.

It’s a major “begin again” moment, right here. My symptoms flared up completely “out of nowhere” (by that I mean, “predictably, but I wasn’t watching for it because I made foolish assumptions about my current emotional wellness, generally”). I certainly could have handled myself much better than I did. A chill calm morning shattered by tense voices, hurt feelings, frustration, irrational fears… it can feel like ruination. It can feel like more damage is done. It can feel like “spreading it around”. It definitely isn’t “fair”. There is guilt and shame beginning to try to fill the space where those irrational fears had been acting out their moment of drama. It’s fucking hard. It’s very very real.

Mental illness – and mental wellness – may not conform to our idea of what they “should” look like, who “should” be afflicted, or how we think such things “ought to” progress. I’ve learned a handful of things over the time and distance this healing journey has covered, though. Mental illness is commonplace. We’ve all got problems. We all hurt sometimes. No one is immune to communication challenges, or emotions.

I take a deep breath. I exhale. I relax. I let it go. My Traveling Partner alerts me he is going to soak in the hot tub. His tone is no assurance that I’m actually welcome… so I choose to do the hard thing; I open myself up to potential hurt feelings, and suggest I’d like to join him. He doesn’t say “no” or set a boundary. I take a deep breath… and begin again.

We soak together, listen to birds sing, and let the day begin.

It’s some time later, now. Feels like a mostly ordinary, pleasant morning, aside from the very deliberate gentleness and care we are taking with each other as we move on from a difficult moment. Do you love someone with PTSD? Complex PTSD? Bi-polar disorder? Depression? Anxiety? It’s hard, right? It’s not your “fault” – it’s also not their “fault”. Mental illness is hard work for the one afflicted – and hard work for the people who love them. Take a breath. Get some distance if you need it. Ideally… don’t punish each other. I know. Hard. All of it is hard. Good practices help – they take actual practice, and consistency, and they do help. A lot. Good therapy in the care of a qualified clinician helps (not always easy to find the right therapist, and it can be costly, I get it). Working to avoid compounding mental illness with “second dart suffering” and further inflicted hurts unwittingly delivered on each other is so important… and again, so much work. I can only say “keep practicing” and “begin again”. Yes, my results vary. No lie. Sometimes I fall short of my best self. I may never be wholly “well” in a reliable way that I can casually trust – my vigilance (regarding my symptoms) and (good) self-care practices are one thing I can offer my partner(s) to prevent doing them further damage. It’s not always enough… but I can’t take that personally.

I begin again.

So, I’ve got this day ahead of me, and things to do with it. I’ve hit the reset button, and the rest is a big pile of verbs. It’s up to me which of those I grab onto and apply to the day. 🙂

What about you? Are you ready to begin again? You’ve got this!

I was sipping my morning coffee in the dim of dawn, sun not yet peaking over the horizon. I was thinking about a friend who often seems to default to negative self-talk, and assumptions about others that are built on suspicion, fear, and mistrust. I know enough about my friend’s personal history to have some limited understanding why they would hold such a bleak perspective on life, relationships, and yes, even on the person in the mirror. I hold my friend in very high regard, and our mutual affection and appreciation has lasted many years…but even I am not immune to being the recipient of my friend’s mistrust, suspicion, and doubt.

My thoughts this morning, after recently having coffee together, were less about how uncomfortable it can feel to be viewed as an adversary, unexpectedly, and absent any input on my part to justify or support that view, and more about how unpleasant it must be to go through life that way, living in the context of some implicit certainty that everyone, eventually, is an enemy. It saddens me, and I struggle to balance my understanding and compassion with my feelings of helplessness and frustration – and lack of being understood clearly. My own communication challenges don’t make it easier. My own emotional baggage and personal history with relationships with other human primates don’t make it easier, either. I sipped my coffee, breathing, exhaling, relaxing, and consider my perspective, and where I can, also the perspective my friend expressed, with as much depth, and understanding, as I am able to do.

Perspective changes what we understand of the world.

I think back to articles I’ve read about mindfulness, and the handful of those that point out that undertaking a mindfulness practice can throw emotional health and balance into chaos for some people. I even accept that this is one of the potential experiences people may have; when we have adapted to darkness, the brightness of being flooded with light is not necessarily and immediately helpful, comfortable, or pleasant experience. Some of the things we keep to ourselves over a lifetime, dismissing our concerns, diminishing our sense of self, or building our narrative on a ton of self-serving made-up shit to compensate, perhaps, for the bleakness of our sense of doubt and futility, end up being powerful (and possibly successful) coping mechanisms for the hardest shit we don’t want to face – and having coped with, we don’t have to. Then along comes some “healthy” mindfulness practice that sounds awesome, that our friends are into, and we hop right into it, eager and enthusiastic… then, we find ourselves face to face with the darkness being dissipated by a light so bright we can’t see what it hides from us, and… we run, terrified and damaged, fearful of change, resisting what so bright a moment of illumination might really show us. After all, we’d coped with all that bullshit. We’d found a way. Now, here we are, facing our self, unexpectedly. Not always a pretty picture, and we’re not all ready for that.

Changing our own perspective doesn’t always feel comfortable. Whether or not “mindfulness” can be said to “work” is more than a little bit dependent on what we expect it to do, and whether that is what we actually want – or are ready for.

My friend and I talked about my journey, and theirs. We spoke of expectations, and of “reality”. My friend had, at one time, been a huge advocate for me finding my way to a more positive perspective on life. At that time, they seemed so unbelievably positive to me that it was hard to understand the thinking behind those words – wasn’t it a matter of “character” or personality? Wasn’t my personal history “real”, and sufficient to justify my chaos and damage… and negativity? Wasn’t my cynicism perfectly “reasonable”? Here I was sitting over coffee, after far too long out of touch, and I was the positive one, the contented one, the one bouncing back. My friend seemed overly negative, and out of touch with their own emotional experience, lacking in a certain authenticity and “presence”, that felt strangely dishonest and uncomfortable to me. The conversation came around to meditation, and mindfulness practices, generally. “All that’s bullshit,” my friend said firmly. “I tried that stuff back in the day, and it only made me cry a lot, and made me doubt my relationships.” I sat quietly listening (which can be difficult for me), then replied “What did your therapist say about that experience?” My friend answered abruptly, “I quit therapy. It was expensive, and kept making me doubt my place in the world, and my relationship with my partner.” She gestured vaguely, something like waving off that topic with her hand. “I didn’t need all that, I’m unhappy enough without help. Self-reflection bullshit just made me rethink everything. Who needs it?”

I keep turning the conversation over in my head, in the time since. So much of what she had shared seemed unhappy, and infused with a sense of having failed herself in some mysterious way, punctuated by occasionally accusations of some other person setting her up for failure. If she is so deeply unhappy in life, in her relationships, wouldn’t she expect self-reflection to hold up that mirror, and show her precisely that? Doesn’t that open the door to the potential that change could be made – chosen – and offer the chance to walk a different path?

No answers, this morning, really. Just questions, and self-reflection, and the illumination offered by shining a bright light into my own dark corners. There’s always an opportunity to begin again. 🙂 I am my own cartographer; I choose my path.

I’m still chuckling about getting all the way to work yesterday without realizing I had forgotten my phone. 🙂 You know what? I totally survived it, and there was honestly no actual stress involved. lol It was interesting how wholly unprepared for the morning I actually was, yesterday, though. I’m not sure why… I didn’t feel particularly groggy, or tired. I bumbled about my morning routine fairly unconvincingly, as though it were all new, or maybe… an afterthought. All good. The day happened, without regard to my readiness for it. 😀

Here it is another one. Good cup of coffee. Good night of rest. I feel comfortable, and from the vantage point of just waking, not in much pain. Nice. Good start to the day.

I get lost in my thoughts for a few minutes, staring into the pre-dawn darkness beyond the window of my studio, drinking coffee. This is not wasted time. It is time spent in a contented reverie, relaxed, calm, and present. I smile, partly because the smile feels good, and partly because this moment feels a bit like an achievement. No anxiety. No doubt. No seething unsettled unsatisfied rage. Just a woman, a moment, and a cup of coffee in the morning. This moment feels like a destination arrived at. My smile deepens in a moment of self-directed encouragement and quiet joy.

Sufficiency. Contentment. Perspective. These can be built, worked at, and nurtured, so much more easily than one can “chase happiness”. Having built them over time, I find them a durable foundation to explore joy, to find “ease”, and to experience fearless presence in my own experience. A worthy journey, thus far. I enjoy the morning’s wee quiet celebration.

I think ahead. I can’t see beyond the “fog of the unknown” future ahead of me, not really. I trim away expectations, and regularly check my assumptions, looking for hints that I have mislead myself, and making corrections before fanciful self-deceits can sabotage my experience. Gently vigilant. Still so human. I’m not even frustrated by that. Not this morning. Not over this good cup of coffee, in this pleasant moment. I laugh at myself joyfully, for no real “reason”.

Without warning, in an instant… and we can only be prepared for so much.

Emotional resilience is that quality which allows us to “fill our tanks”, or build a healthy foundation, to be emotionally able to withstand life’s unexpected moments, occasional crisis or trauma, and to bounce back with our sense of self and general “wholeness” intact. It’s that resilience that allows us to hear the sound of a glass door unexpectedly shatter, breaking the peace of a work morning into countless fragments, broken, chaotic, and then from that wreckage, to retrieve a perfectly excellent day of work, and life, and love. I happen across the photograph, and recall the moment that I heard the “crack!” of that door, a corridor away, as it yielded to some force of physics. I’d already forgotten about it, and in a moment when I later walked past the shattered door, my eye saw only the beauty of the patterns of the fractured glass. Having forgotten my phone, I asked someone else if I could use their phone to photograph it… which created a joyful space for a conversation about art, and life. It’s rare that the woman in the mirror gets to be the artist she is, in the place she works for a living. It was quite wonderful, and somewhat distracting, and I finish my coffee pondering the happy coincidence that I had forgotten my phone. That worked out nicely. 🙂 I was present – for all the moments.

Later, after I returned home, my Traveling Partner and I relaxed and enjoyed our shared evening. My phone was still forgotten on the charger. I was still present, enjoying the moments my partner and I share. Quite delightful. I hope I learned some things… It’s already time to begin again. 🙂

Whether 2019 was a good year for you or a seemingly endless series of trials and hardships, it is almost over. A brand new year will unfold ahead of us, and we’ll experience a new sequence of events, in order, by day and date, moment by moment, and subsequently, about 365 days farther along still, the survivors will be beginning yet again. So it goes.

2019 has been an interesting year. I don’t guess there’s any point to breaking it down in further detail; we were all there, each with our own perspective, our own “highlights reel”, our own chaos and damage. We all, generally, did our best with what we had as resources to work with, and our limited knowledge yielded results that varied. Mistakes were made. Some regrettable words were spoken. We didn’t always make our best choices. No gods here… and yet… we each have that divine spark within ourselves, and a chance at greatness. We get so many opportunities to do better, to be that person we most want to be. 🙂 And here it is, a solidly excellent time to begin again…

…Realistically, most of us will make grand plans build on visions of change, our inspiration and motivation both pinned to a date on the calendar. :-\ How well we do, how close we come to achieving our goals, relies heavily on what we’ve already done to ready ourselves for change, and the long journey in pursuit of our dreams. What have you been practicing? Do you have the resilience to pick yourself up and begin again…and again… and again… and again… until you succeed? Even the practices take practice – how much more practice is involved once you’ve built all those healthy practices? Yep. More.

I’m not saying any of this to be discouraging. Just pointing out what has become so obvious; there are a ton of verbs involved, and results may vary. 🙂 It always looks easier in the commercials. 😉

…Still, if you want it so badly that you’re willing to do the work, the practice, the repetition, the continued attempts after multiple failures, rebuilding yourself in the image you have chosen… you’ll totally get there. Time is a factor. Will is a factor. You only have so much of either. Choose wisely… and good luck. I mean that quite sincerely; you have my well-wishes that the year to come takes you directly to the places you most want to be in life. There is going to be quite a bit of effort involved, no reason to pile discouragement on top of anticipated effort. You’ve got this, if you want to work for it. 🙂

…Probably. I mean… realistically, it’s not 100% of always entirely in our own hands, how things turn out in life. I’ve got to at least acknowledge that, right? Still… most of the journey, as we make our way, is within our hands to some extent (even how we deal with obstacles on our path). “Choose wisely” seems like good practical advice. I’d add “don’t take anything personally” to that, and maybe follow up with a reminder that “life is what we make of it”, although that last, while true in large part, is not very helpful when things are going poorly, at all. I’m just saying, we each have choices (so many!). Make some.

Later I’ll head to the office, to work one of two remaining work shifts in 2019. I’ll run an errand. Get some things done. The clock will continue to tick toward 2020. What a complex experience this year has been. I sip my coffee and give the year some thought, adding context here and there, dredging up delightful memories, wracking my consciousness with some that are less idyllic or joyful – still real, still part of my journey. I smile; so many of these memories were made with the help of my Traveling Partner, part of a shared journey of love – I’m grateful for that, and feeling fairly fortunate.

I hear my partner wake, beyond the door to my studio. Coffee together in the morning? Yes, please! It’s a lovely way to begin again. 🙂