Forgiveness and recovery

The blog has shifted gears. My writings were sometimes exercises of introspection – reflecting my state of mind during my struggle with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Other times, I would write about what I thought was wrong with the medical system as it stands today; not seeing the person as a whole or just silencing and over drugging the mentally ill till they slowly lose themselves in an array of side effects and endless adjustments of dosages. I also wrote about misdiagnosis and malpractice, and how our lives could change just by being given one very wrong label or another.

In my last few posts I started sharing with you the lessons taken home. There is no pretentiousness or ‘I know better’ in my words. I try to repeat this one way or another because it is so important!

So here goes…

Today I want to talk to you about a pivotal moment in my recovery.

You know getting better is not linear. If anyone tells you so, then they either don’t know what they are talking about, or they are simply really very optimistic, or just they were super lucky and are the 0.01%.

Recovery has so many elements. Naive, I used to think about it like a finish line. It was actually more of a destination, and to get there you have to take a bumpy ride.

To recover, I of course needed be on the right medication. I was supposed to find stability. Yes little by little I didn’t have anymore mood swings. A small relapse here, a little adjustment there…

I relate to this as trivial compared to what I went through. I didn’t feel depressed or have this huge void eating me up; true. Yet, I felt surprisingly guilty. Probably not surprisingly.

I was not able to feel relief. Why aren’t you happy now? Good question! I was faced with two major problems.

One: the aftermath of what ‘I have done’ to my family witnessing all this suffering. Two: the immense fear of this ordeal happening again. Three: I know I said two but I also had memory issues, self-confidence issues, brain fog, and 20 plus kilograms to lose to fit in my old socks because of all the meds I was taking before finding the right treatment, tapper off a few others, and of course I had to reintegrate into society.

After spending time feeling stagnant in these negative thoughts, I talked to my psychiatrist who suggested that these signs are very well similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In brief: the experience of illness is so intense that in itself it becomes traumatic and creates guilt, fear and flashbacks. Are you familiar?

He suggested I undergo a few sessions of EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy. It is non invasive, simple and fast method of psychotherapy. I was skeptical at first but I tried and It worked really well on my trauma. Highly recommend it if you find a qualified therapist.

Relief was not immediate. But at the time I decided that I needed to open a new chapter in my life if I am to recover. Again this does not happen over night. It is a process. You plant the seed.

How can I ask those around me to forget what happened if I am constantly thinking about it? How can I be ‘normal’ if I am living every moment waiting for another attack? How can I expect to be ‘forgiven’ if I cannot forgive myself?

Forgiveness was the magic word. And trust me it is everything but cliché. 

I had no choice. I internalized this and repeated it to myself for the millionth time. Mental illness could happen to anyone at anytime. Mental illness is not a choice. Mental illness teaches you how to be human and humane. This experience showed us all how we are connected and how we love one another and how blessed I am to have my family and loved ones. They also used to tell me the same, but you know guilt…

Before all this, I had to forgive myself for the pain I went through. I decided that I will allow myself the suffering that passed and say it is ok. I don’t judge you. You were hurting and you are fine now. Again, you water the seed.

I gave myself a pat on the back and a big hug for the long road travelled and I said it is ok. I looked at all the things I have learned. How strong I have become. How loved and cared for I was and how things could have turned much much worse.

I looked at my family hoping day in day out that what dwells inside my soul will reflect into my behavior. Little by little, things began to change, and a new normal appeared.

The seed grows into a plant.

My dear reader I decided to be kind to myself because I had suffered enough and I invite you to do the same even if you are not in recovery, or even if you are not mentally ill. We have all suffered one way or another. We deserve to live guilt-free.

Allow yourself the gains you have achieved though little they may seem; for today is a good day and we only hope we replenish the well a little more tomorrow.

What does self-care actually mean?

I talked in my last post about self-care and its importance to mental health and well-being:

Today I would like to elaborate a little bit and dig deeper and try to tell you what I really mean by this concept.

Superficially, self-care is really simple to understand. It entails taking care of yourself. If you google the term you will find diagrams and articles giving examples of self-care including eating well, good sleeping habits, going for a walk, listening to music, and so on… Basically, it is about any action you do to take care of yourself.

I of course agree with all of the above. Who wouldn’t? But I like to stretch the concept a little bit more to include some other essential elements to our well-being that we tend to overlook.

Self Care is about Self Acceptance, Self Forgiveness, and Self Love.

Self-care is also essentially about self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-love.

If we don’t accept, forgive and love ourselves we will not be able to truly care and mend our wounds, and ultimately start unfolding to meet our true self.

My new year’s resolutions, my goals, were almost never achievable not just because I lacked the will and the motivation to reach them. I discovered it was because I was rarely true and honestly accepting where I was at; I was not forgiving myself for my “mistakes” and I was judging myself for “lagging behind”. I didn’t love myself wholeheartedly and doubted that I could ever achieve anything.

We also get dragged and pulled by negativity right and left. We are consumed by toxins and more importantly by toxic relationships. We spend hours tending to these tasks while we could be using this vital life energy on our beings.

Self Care is about using our intelligence and intellect; our senses and sensibilities.

Self-care is about using our intelligence and intellect; our senses and sensibilities. We know down deep inside what we need to develop; what capacities we lack in order to become stronger and more complete.

I discovered along the way that my anxiety would reduce exponentially when I would “work” on myself away from the attacks. I had to accept me and forgive me and love me.

Another attack was bound to happen. Anxiolytics had to be stopped – they were threatening my life; I was becoming “addicted”. At the time, pain equaled pill: it was unbearable.

Putting thoughts into compartments helped me a lot. I blocked the negative energy coming from outside. I protected myself. I set boundaries. This is very important in self-care and it is not selfishness.

Along with compartmentalization, prioritizing, labeling my emotions, and repeating that I want to be happy and that I can be happy were all part of the package.

I repeat that I am under treatment and that I am very lucky that I found a good one that works for me. The final result would not have been possible without it.

But for months during my illness I suffered from severe brain fog. I was not able to think clearly. It was the residue of all the bad chemicals in my system – yes even after I quit them. It was the strangest feeling. Still deep under the person was still there; the process was in place.

The real you is always there. Your beautiful self is there, whispering and waiting to be heard.

I am telling you this because no matter where you are at now in your journey it is never too late or too early. Despite the heavy meds you are taking, despite the pain and the rejection you are feeling towards yourself: you can stop, assess and reconsider.

The same goes if you just feel that you are not in-synch with yourself. If you feel you are unhappy, starting a mild depression. Stop. Assess and reconsider.

I invite you not to wait till it bubbles up into something that becomes more organic and more difficult to manage.

“There is no higher or lower goal. There is only one goal, Self-Realization”

Meher BABA [The Answer 26]

The importance of self-care for mental health

I don’t promise to write often or make this and advise blog, or pretend being an expert.

I simply would like to share with you in honesty as I always have something that I believe is very important and was life changing in my experience.

You hear a lot about taking care of how you eat, about taking supplements, doing sports, and facial routines. Every time you are on social media there is this ad or this shared article about this cream or app, or this diet that promises to make you look like a star…

Very well yes, I know all this is important. On very good days, one might give attention to these things which are important I am not denying. Now that I am better I started to take care of my body and it makes me feel good.

But tear and wear as we approach our mid thirties and forties is not on our bodies only – it is also in our minds. We tend to forget about this. We run around in stressful circles all the times despite where we live and what we do; whether we are working from home, from the office, or as stay-in dads or mums.

Life has such a demanding rapid pace that we forget to tend to the most precious part of ourselves that nourishes our beings. We silence the rising alarm that says “I am tired”, “ I am not in synchronization with whom I used to be” , until it becomes “ I am not who I used to be”…“ I am unhappy”.

In my case mental illness was not a moment.

It was a series of these moments. Small droplets that formed an ocean.

Many many many times these drops form because of events that have nothing to do with us. That goes without saying. But also, I have to be honest, self-care; this very important stopping assessing and reconsidering strategies in life could prevent staying in viscous circles that attract negativity and self destruction.

One important lesson I learned through out my journey is that in order to get out of pain it is imperative to decide to be self critical and assume responsibility. One has to want to be genuinely happy. To decide that being the victim and staying in this role brings no good.

The wish is the beginning of the realization of the dream.

Nothing and no one, no drug, no doctor will get us of our misery unless we decide we want to be genuinely better first. It could sound naive. But this is my story…

I meet many people. They talk to me and I see how they are starting to be absorbed by life and not the good part of it. How stress is consuming them. I try to tell them that they have to apply self-care before it turns into something more serious. Some do and some don’t. Applying plastic surgery to life problems doesn’t solve them.

When we have a wound we need to clean it. Sooner or later it will get inflamed and inflammation means illness.

This is how I see it: when we are unhappy we start developing all sorts of illnesses. Our immune system weakens. I promise what I am saying bears a lot of truth. Look around you. Back pain, migraines, stomach problems, weight problems, fertility issues… Dig deeper. You will find a lot of unhappiness there. And downhill we go…

We might not be able to avoid all this. But we could change what lies between our hands.

At the end life is a series of moments and happiness is a choice…

I would like to end my post by saying that there are good days and bad days. A bad day will always end. Let us seize the good days and take care of our mental health and well being and make good choices in life. Every little helps and it is never too late.

And as Rumi said “ What you seek is seeking you. ”

Bipolar – my disability

My illness is flagrant. It is clear as sunshine. Bright as a star. Big as a 10 cart diamond ring. Obvious to the naked eye…

Yes it is when I have an episode.

But when I don’t…

It is dormant. Blends with the background. Goes unnoticed. Quiet common. Just like the flue. It is a John Doe..

I tend to forget, for am human. And we humans tend to do so. A lovely quality we have. Makes us able to live, to turn the page.

When my illness strikes back, am always surprised. It takes me a few days to adjust. As if it is the very first time am experiencing the symptoms. All fresh.

The pain is new, yet the depth of the scar is familiar. I remember the fear of falling into the abyss of mental illness with all what it means – more meds, more symptoms, more side effects, hospitalization, days in bed, fear of losing my mind, fear of losing control, fear of finally giving in to suicide…

Yet I know I can’t. Something tells me this cannot be the end. I recall the conversations I had, the notes I wrote, specifically for these moments to remind myself not to give in.

I try to summon my strength, the strength I have and the one I don’t, and pretend to stand up. I rise in my dream above myself, above my tears, above my hospital bed and tell my doctors to let me live some more.

But if you are ill like me, you will soon learn that living isn’t the point really. So what is the point of having a life with such an illness that makes hell a walk in the park? On average I get two good weeks a month and if am lucky we can stretch them to three.

I am heavily medicated, but at least the meds I take do work.

I got PTSD. I am being treated for it, but I feel mostly guilty all the time for how my illness affects my loved ones.

That’s where am at now with my bipolar. I cannot always embrace it. I don’t rise above it. I wish I could say it differently, bipolar is my disability…

Solace, where are you?

I would like to shed my skin like a snake…

I would like to change colors like a chameleon…

I know that personal growth is not always linear.

I know also that sometimes you keep on suffering until you learn the lesson.

Things are more bearable during the day. Yet, when the sun sets, and as the sky becomes darker, there is little left to be done. The few chores of the day end one by one.

I sneak back to my corner in bed. I hold my phone and do nonsense. Minute after minute, tic toc. It is past midnight already. I count the hours I have left in bed, and dread facing the next morning. I will myself to sleep but know to well that this is not how it works.

Someone else got into the control center in my head and took over. I am equally lost between trying to fight and surrendering. They are the same.

I’d do anything if I could. Like walking on shifting sand I lie on this side then on that side seeking comfort.

I finally fall asleep but my dreams are no solace. Of course they are vivid. I stopped trying to know what is true and what is not. They are as real as it gets, and also as fake as it gets.

I usually fixate on things in my dreams. Small details, they keep on coming back. I wake up without any memory of what happened. Just a feeling of weirdness and abnormality. Too much brain activity or too little. All the same.

I find small feet cuddling next to mine. They are seeking comfort and safety in me. In me…

I wake up to the sound of the alarm and hit snooze. I wish I could escape from the responsibility of being me.

I wish I could let go.

I worry about my family and how they will react – again. Pity, love, empathy, boredom, anger, what again will they feel.

I can see my temporary paralysis turning beautifully into a handicap. Will I need to be taken care of again? Till when I wonder… Will I ever be an adult?

I don’t know what to do with every single second of my day. I listen to this song then forward to another. I watch this show and then another. I go out for a smoke then decide it is too cold. I want cookies and cheese at the same time. What the hell is going on.

You know I wish I had a timeshare at a mental clinic. How cool would that be? Hello yes, this is client 44087. I am calling for room 13. Yes, is it time already. Is it empty today? Sure, like last time yes. I would like to start with the locked up package first. And I insist, don’t let me out even if I beg you too. That’s it then. See you later. Oh yes, I know the drill. No sharp objects of belts. Thank you.

Perfect customer service.

A few weeks after, my skin would have shed. Yes I am a reptile after all. Why? Oh am also a chameleon and I change colors all the time. Only difference is this is not for adaptation like reptiles. It is a malfunction, a mutation if you prefer.

At the end of the day, survival is for the fittest…

TBC

A clean slate

When you go through the violent experience of depression and suicide attempts because you cannot function anymore, you realize that you cannot continue living the same way and expect a different outlook in life.

When you experience a sadness that literally makes you unable to breath, and that leads you to think killing yourself would be the best possible solution, you cannot survive and believe you will be cured without changing.

When waking up in the morning alive is the worst thing that happens to you, you realize eventually that there is no more business as usual…

You need a clean slate.

That is no easy matter. I would like to entertain two notions. The notion of reason and logical thinking, and the notion of thresholds.

Logical wise thinking would assume that to feel satisfied you should rely on inner resources. You should view the world around you in a way where the one variable is you: you decide how to react, how to feel, and how to think about the million stimuli that bombard you daily. Whether you react to a song, a conversation, or to a thought in your past. It is your choice says the wise man. Grow up. It is your choice.

I can decide to be happy. I can decide to be positive. I can decide to be “in charge”. I own my life and I will act and feel accordingly. Ok.

Yet this beautiful theory ignores an element that changes everything: threshold. This is a personal attribute that varies greatly and depends on so many factors. For example, you have a physical threshold for hunger, thirst and so forth that is calculated according to your weight maybe, your BMI, how health you are, last time you ate and drank, and maybe the reason for which you are without food and water. Someone in a hunger strike might have a higher threshold than someone who is being deprived of food for other reasons, say famine or war. Yet, at the end, they both reach a point where it is unbearable to continue. When, is the question here.

Similarly, you can have an emotional threshold. I cannot watch horror movies – my threshold is zero tolerance here. Yours might be different. You might find them genuinely amusing. We would both be terrified should we become exposed to a situation with a serial killer trying to catch us. We can argue that a paranoid person would find hallucinating about being the next victim in a murder spree, feels equally terrified.

When the threat is eminent or at least is strongly believed to be, the threshold for tolerance of stress is very low. Not so easy now to think that you can be happy, or that you should remain positive, or better put the needs of the aggressor first, and try to understand that they are really a victim of their circumstances. Yes it is about you, though others might say otherwise. What can you do?

If you overcome suicide you ideally want to start fresh. You never want to go back to being in misery. You adopt maybe this motto of I am in charge, but you soon discover that your threshold is screwed up. Your sanity does not depend on you only. You know it. It is very real to you.

I know that if I keep ignoring certain things that led to my previous despair like I did in the past, especially now that my threshold for stress is minimal, I will end up in an ER. I really don’t want to.

I woke up from my mental attack to find me forced to change and the world around me is the same. So I am faced with a serious question. If I cannot ignore certain topics and the feelings that they create; if I cannot deal with the misery they trigger in me; and if I cannot change the problem and the people who created them in the first place; how can I not end in an ER in a year’s time?

Tell me about your threshold. Tell me about how you changed after your depression or most acute attack.

Is the same stuff making you tick? Do you still feel fragile and worry about breaking down? Were you able to regain you sanity? Are you really in charge a 100% or are there issues that remain out of hand and out of control? Do you feel an urge to resolve something but feel it is not in your hands?

Bless,

TBC