The Daily Me (Journal) Pride – 12/09/2016

Today’s prompt comes from 100 Inspirational Journal Prompts by Melissa Bolton @ The Mogul Mom

Something about yourself that you’re most proud of.

This is a difficult self-exploration moment for me. Years ago, long before the deep depression, suicide attempts and turbulent 13-year marriage, I would have said my determination. I had goals then. Definitive paths I wanted to take. That determination got side-lined by the college money issue, which lead to the deep depression and the downward spiral that has killed those plans completely. Needless to say, I no longer have that burning determination.

I am most definitely not proud of my health. Some of it is my own fault, like the diabetes and not taking care of myself when I was first diagnosed. Some of it was happenstance, like the cancer and the chemo which left me with neuropathy in my feet. And the other is well, I suppose part genetic and part environmental, like the mental illnesses that have plagued me for the duration of my life.

These days, I find it difficult to be proud of almost anything about myself. I am 50, estranged from my spouse, living on disability, and sharing a home with my elderly father and brother. My life is nothing like I’d hoped all those years ago when I had a vision of where my life would be by the age of 50. I wanted to be a college professor, writing novels and books of poetry, and living somewhere in New England, preferably Maine. I wanted a small house, tons of cats and maybe a lover or two. That is not the life I have now.

The only thing I am still proud of myself about is my creativity. Although I still have periods of inactivity due to my health and mental illnesses, I have not given up my love of writing, nor my love of art. I am less interested these days in publication. Now I just write because I love it and I enjoy the small audience I have here on WordPress. I still dabble with watercolor painting and charcoal sketches now and again. I am relatively content with what I am able to do these days creatively, even if I am discontent by the life I am living.

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The Sandbox Writing Challenge #59 — The Problem With Tigers

On Oct 11th, Calen presented us with the final questions from Learning to Fall: Recording the Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons. But before she gave the questions, she posted a story, which unless I list it here, the title of this post won’t make much sense. So here is the story:

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There’s a well-known Zen parable about the man who was crossing a field when he saw a tiger charging at him. The man ran, but the tiger gained on him, chasing him toward the edge of a cliff. When he reached the edge, the man had no choice but to leap. He had one chance to save himself: a scrubby branch growing out of the side of the cliff about half way down. He grabbed the branch and hung on. Looking down, what did he see on the ground below? Another tiger!

Then the man saw that a few feet off to his left a small plant grew out of the cliff, and from it there hung one ripe strawberry. Letting go with one hand he found that he could stretch his arm out just far enough to pluck the berry with his fingertips and bring it to his lips. How sweet it tasted!

* * * * *

We’re used to getting nuggets of conventional advice:
• Don’t wait for a tragedy to start appreciating the little things in life.
• Stop and smell the honeysuckle. (Or pumpkin muffins if they’re more you’re thing!)
• Count your blessings. Appreciate what you have instead of complaining about what you don’t.

But I prefer to offer these mystery points:
• If spiritual growth is what you seek, don’ ask for more strawberries, ask for more tigers.
• The threat of the tigers, the leap from the cliff, are what give the strawberry its savor — no tigers, no sweetness.
• In falling we somehow gain what means most. In falling we are given back our lives even as we lose them.

–Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: Recording the Blessings of an Imperfect Life


Now on to Calen’s questions:

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Does seeing problems as mysteries
change your perspective about life?
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What problems in your life
are you ready to give up trying to solve?

I admit, I love a good mystery. Nothing perks me up more than trying to solve a good Whodunit, but I am still not sure I can view problems as mysteries to be solved. They don’t seem nearly as much fun, but I guess that’s what it comes down to by the time I am making my lists. It does change my perspective a bit. Since I have a good imagination, I can always turn myself into Sherlock or Miss Marple and solve my problems. It might even be exciting that way.

I don’t really have many problems these days. I stress a bit over finances. Struggle now and again with my writing. But the only things that plague me routinely are my mental illnesses. While they are constant problems and quite mysterious, I am not sure I can give them up. It would be like cutting off a hand or poking out my eyes. They are a part of who I am. I can maintain them, but not rid myself of them completely.

 

The Sandbox Writing Challenge #58 — It’s all in your head!

On Oct 4th, Calen continued on with questions from Learning to Fall: Recording the Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons. This time, we are asked to go deeper:

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What usually happens in your mind
when you fail to solve a problem?

I wouldn’t wish my mind on my worst enemy on a good day, so I definitely wouldn’t want to open it up to anyone when I’ve failed at anything. But since I’ve signed up to answer these questions, I will try to explain.

My mind is a twist of mazes, with rooms that lead to nowhere, sections that represent a swamp, a graveyard, a castle, and a courtyard, among a few (trust me, there are some places in there best left to the imagination). When I fail, the maze becomes a twisty-curvy set of mirrors. When I first enter my mind, I am met with myself, a reflection of that failure running for eternity. Words like shame, blame, and/or loser are tattooed upon my forehead. There is no mercy or compassion. If I manage to make it to the center of the maze, there is usually a swampy mote to greet me. If I want forgiveness, I have to cross it, usually on foot, dredging through the mire and muck. Previous versions of myself float face down, drowned from my own self-inflicted wounds. I will either drown there again, or I may make it to the other side. That’s where the graveyard, castle and courtyard are. Depending on my self-loathing, I could end up in the graveyard, or make it to the castle itself. If I do get to the castle, I am met with past abusers who laugh and jeer at me. If I seek to hide from them, I could get lost inside one of those other rooms I spoke of above. That’s usually when depression drags me into holes impossible to escape. On rare occasions, I will make it to the courtyard. Only there can I find hope and resolution and come out of my mind unscathed.

Of course, the outcome comes down to how severe the problem was and how badly I failed. The varied levels of depression will also determine how long I remain inside my mind. There is rarely a determination to accept my failure and move on. Instead, failures just get compounded and build up and up until I am forced into treatment again.Such is the life of one dealing with Mental Illness.

The Sandbox Writing Challenge #56 — You and Mystery

On Sept 20th, Calen began posting questions from a new book titled, Learning to Fall: Recording the Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons. The premise this day was on Mystery – do you see life “as a problem to be solved and back away in fear, confusion, or the belief it can’t really be that great, or do you leap forward into the mystery of it?” Here’s her question for us to explore:

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Where in your life have you experienced true mystery?

Forgive me as I wander off-topic for a few moments. I think this needs to be explained before I can properly answer this question.

There is a life of awe and wonder pre-Mental Illness for most of us who have mental illnesses. That time when anything and everything feels possible. When life can seem like one big mystery to be solved. And then there is life post-Mental Illness when nothing seems possible, where it is a struggle to just do the basics each day and you have no time to think about wonders and possibilities.

I bring this up because my mental illnesses didn’t start to manifest in a major way until I was around 22-25 yrs old. I’d always been a quiet, somewhat melancholia child, but I still had that sense of awe and wonder. Even through my twenties, I was able to function fairly well with my disorders. I went through nine years of college battling between the mania and the depression, acting out and being difficult, and my OCD was off the charts during those years. Perfectionism ruled me completely. I also spent a great deal of time feeling anxious as I withdrew further into myself and away from others. I’ve just described to you my four mental illnesses – Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD and Social Anxiety Disorder.

It would be my mid-thirties before I became so unstable that I had to seek help – psychiatrists, therapists and medication. The medication helped for a while, but I was so zombified that I couldn’t accomplish even the smallest of tasks. As a writer, that would become excruciating. So, over the past 15 years or so, I have yo-yoed between medicated and non-medicated in a battle to continue to write.

Now to actually answer the question – Where in my life have I actually experienced true mystery? I would have to say in those pre-Mental Illness years . I was a curious child, always with either a book in my hand or outside exploring the life of insects. I would lay out in a field at night and contemplate the stars. Prisms fascinated me, as did the weather. In those days, everything was a mystery to be explored. I quietly explored the world around me, rarely showing my enthusiasm, but it was there in an abundance. It was only after those mental illnesses began to take hold of me that I stopped seeing the outside world so much as a mystery. As I withdrew into myself, I discover a maze of mysteries that still keep me perplexed. These are not awe-inspiring mysteries. They are filled with fear, insecurities, doubt, shame, and pain.

It takes a lot of patience and mindfulness to even explore the outer world these days. I still get trapped inside my mind maps/puzzles/mazes on a daily basis. These days, I have to force myself to choose between outer or inner mystery. I ask myself, which of these still inspire me? Which will I choose today? It is a constant battle and not always a choice.

The Sandbox Writing Challenge #51 — Movin’ On!

*cough* *sneeze* *cough* I am muddling through another of Calen’s challenge questions, even though my head feels like it is about to explode from a cold. No worries, dear readers, I have tissues nearby. This question is from Aug 9th and it has really made me think…

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What keeps you going?

I am a goal-setter and usually if I have specific goals laid out, I will stay pretty motivated. I also have several mental illnesses (Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and OCD) which often derail my goals. When I am manic, I fulfill my goals in record time. When I am depressed, I don’t give two shits about goals. Most of the time I can balance out my mania and depression and still get a lot of things accomplished. I managed to do that while I was in college and for a few years after college. But I’ve had long periods of non-motivation too, like those years before college (I was a late-to-the-game college student. I didn’t go to college until I was 25) and that long 13-year marriage to a Narcissist where my life was a constant downward spiral resulting in 7 suicide attempts.

These days, there are several things that keep me going. As a coping skill, I’ve learned to use Mindfulness to keep me grounded and focused (thank you, Kathryn – my therapist). When necessary, I take psych medications (although I will often go off of them after a while because they fog up my brain and I cannot accomplish anything). But these days, the biggest motivator that I have is the belief that I have something to give to the world – definitely through my words, but possibly also through my actions and deeds. And although it may take me a few months to overcome my demons, I keep coming back and I fight through it until the demons sweep me away again.

The Sandbox Writing Challenge #45 — Take A Stand!

Time for another catch-up post. This one from June 28th. Calen has perplexed me with this one. Mainly because the title and the question seem to be at odds with one another. Here’s the question:

9_FeelingSmallWhat makes you feel small?

I’ve been thinking about this one for a couple of days because of the juxtaposition of the title and the question. This is not a bad thing though. Many of the things that have made me feel small throughout my lifetime have encouraged me to take a stand. I will give you some examples.

I am a middle child, and throughout my childhood and even into my young adulthood, I always felt “small” in both comparison and contrast to my older sister and younger brother. I was never perfect enough, or loud enough and often left out of opportunities within my family. Sometimes, I still feel small, unwanted, unloved and abandoned. I still feel the sting. However, I didn’t let that smallness prevent me from becoming a self-sufficient woman who went to college and earned three degrees.

I also know the smallness of being stigmatized due to mental illness, not only from society, but also from family and friends. I’ve been shunned, gossiped about, called horrible names, and even lost jobs because of my mental illness. The only way I know to stand up in this instance is to tell my story with the hope that someone out there who has mental illness will hear or read my words and know they are not alone.

And lastly, I’ve known the smallness of living with domestic violence at the hand of a Narcissist. No one can cut you down and make you feel less than human than a Narcissist. They pride themselves in shredding you of all sense of dignity. And because they see you as property to be held onto, it is difficult to get away and stay away from them. Again, only by leaving and telling my story to others, can I take a stand against domestic violence.

The Sandbox Writing Challenge #44 — Lighting Up Your World

Another catch-up post, this time for June 21st. Calen has given me a lot to consider with this question:

light-bulb-technology-and-business-by-prophotostock-d7114sxWhat inspires you?

These days, I can’t seem to find inspiration anywhere. It takes me hours to even write journal posts here or in my paper journal. My mind is just too foggy. I have no light-bulb moments, no sparks, no ah-has. The creative side of me is just silent. A deafening silence. When you are accustomed to hearing three distinctive voices in your head giving you inspiration and then they are silenced through medication, it’s almost like being deaf and blind. Everything I do hear or see is bland, dull, monotone. Not even my glorious mountains inspire me these days. Instead of writing or drawing all day, every day, I spend my time binging on Netflix, but even watching my favorite scifi shows doesn’t spark anything within me. I no longer watch as a writer, but now merely to entertain my fogged mind. I keep being assured that this brain-drain won’t be permanent, but I remember how long it took me the last time this happened to recover, and recovery only came once I stopped the medication. I was medicated for 5 years and it took nearly two years un-medicated to get back to my true creative self. So as I struggle with my dilemma of whether to remain medicated or not, I guess I will go back to my deafening silence as I am mentally exhausted just from these two short posts I’ve written tonight.

 

Back Again – Maybe? Hopefully?

It feels strange to be here again after my long absence. Almost like being an intruder on my own blog. I am not ready yet to get back to writing creatively, but I thought that perhaps I might be up to doing some kind of journal writing. I’ve mostly enjoyed doing The Sandbox Challenge, the Friendship Challenge and the Creative Questions, so I will be catching up on those in the upcoming days as I feel up to writing.

This will be slow-going as my mind is so heavily sedated these days. Unfortunately, this is one of the side-effects of psych meds for me and why I have fought for so long not to take them. I lost that battle recently and am back on the meds. Due to the medication, the voices of my muses are not only muffled, but… well, the only way to describe the feeling is that they are on the other side of a wormhole that I cannot get through. Every time I try to cross that threshold, the wormhole collapses. It isn’t merely fog. It’s a universe away. That probably makes little sense to most people, but it is the only way I can describe it.

So, in the upcoming days, I will be doing some journal writing and trying to salvage my mind. Perhaps just writing something, anything again will bridge the gap I need to get back into creative writing.

Creative Questions 9 – Mental Health

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CQ9: How has mental health impacted on your life?

When I hear the words “mental health,” I automatically think of someone with a healthy mental state, or advocates for the mentally ill. I do not have a healthy mental state, but I do advocate for those with mental illness, mainly because I have suffered from mental illness since I was a child. I had minor depression beginning around age 10 which lasted until I was around 16. Then again in my early 30s – I was finally diagnosed as Bipolar around then. But I also showed the reckless behavior of Borderline Personality Disorder beginning in my 20s and lasting through my mid-40s. I’ve had Social Anxiety Disorder since my early 30s and suffered Agoraphobia in my mid-30s until my early 40s. I’ve rarely known a time when mental illness hasn’t affected my life. Mental illness even runs in my family on my mother’s side. My mother had some form of it and I had an aunt who committed suicide. I’ve witnessed almost all of my other aunts suffer from depression or phobias.

In the Mental Health community, I was fortunate enough to end up in some really great hospitals, have some good doctors who worked to get me the help I needed and even a few therapists who took the time to understand me and work with me. But there are still stigmas out there about the mentally ill. People think most of us are deranged or dangerous and that isn’t always so. The only danger most of us pose is toward ourselves. And yet anytime something really bad happens, the government and the media always declare that the person or persons was mentally ill. We cannot even discuss our illness in workplaces because we get stigmatized or, as in my case, fired – though I was never directly told it was because I had a mental illness, but I knew why I was fired. And because there isn’t enough knowledge about mental illness, relationships get ruined.

So how has Mental Health impacted my life? Negatively for the most part. My only success in dealing with my illness has come through Mindfulness practice. Without it, I would most certainly be dead.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Darkness

After reading Keith Garrett’s poem, Darkness and leaving a comment, I began to ponder about this love-hate relationship that I have with it.

I’ve always been a night creature. I would stay up past bedtime as a child and read under my covers or sneak downstairs after everyone had gone to bed to watch a scary movie on television. I loved everything Gothic – the literature, architecture, and the fashion, even that of the modern Goths which was just coming into scene in the early 80s. I often mused that I had my own dark soul (and still do) and this was why I was so attracted to the night, to darkness. As an adult, I surrounded myself with anything and everything darkness – clothes, make-up, boyfriends. I began studying witchcraft as a way to capture the essence of the night and all that it embodied. My poetry was dark and foreboding. I played an RPG game about vampires and created my own persona as that of a dark, brooding vampiress bent on revenge and surrounded by ravens. I lived and breathed the dark world I had created for myself.

And then madness set in. I’d always suffered mild bouts of depression, but managed to bounce back from each one. Some time around my fortieth birthday, I became not only severely depressed, but psychotic as well. I heard demonic voices telling me to harm or kill myself. My muses were gone and these voices replaced them more intensely than anything I’d ever experienced before. I become lost and hopeless. I spent my days and nights enmeshed in darkness. I rarely ventured from my home. I saw no one but my husband when he returned from his trips. I refused to go anywhere with him, even to shop for groceries. The result was endless arguments and physical fights. And suicidal attempts. I was hospitalized numerous times and drugged so badly that most of the time I didn’t even know my own name.

My ray of sunshine came in the form of a therapist who taught me Mindfulness and encouraged me to live in the light. I am well now. I no longer hear voices and I am not medicated. My muses have returned in full force. And yet, I still love the darkness, though it nearly caused my demise. Love. Hate. And love again. I just hope this isn’t a vicious cycle and I am just awaiting the madness to set in again.