I wanted to take another look at the more important posts I’ve made in my now-3-month-old blog – not just rehashing them, but finding the connections among them that can lead to new insights. Toward that end, I have organized the posts primarily by theme, but also (somewhat) chronologically. The themes include:
- Web Mandala
- Limits and Boundaries
- My Inner Menagerie
- My Healthy Side
I started out a day with depression with my search for the right medication (much as I do each morning). As I see it, the role of medication in treating (my) mental illness is to “take the edge off” the symptoms so I can live each day and do the important psycho-therapeutic work I need to heal. Both aspects of my treatment are an ongoing process; I’ve reflected on my experiences with medication (and mental health care providers) in the following posts:
My earliest non-medication-related post was the Web Mandala I colored. In short, the star-burst in the center represents everything good about me: my strength, creativity, spirituality, intellect, life energy, determination, etc. – while the grey pillars on the corners represent my mental illness. It’s hard to say whether the pillars are invading, or the star-burst is driving them away. Which interpretation is more accurate really tends to change from day to day. The point is that they are both present in the same moment and in the same person: both the illness, and everything I need to overcome it.
I wrote Mental Illness and Mass Shootings after the tragic events of December 14, 2012. Writing that post helped me to develop a stronger awareness of the stigma associated with mental illness. That stigma poses a real danger to people with mental illnesses and to society as a whole.
As part of my commitment to helping end this stigma, I have pledged to Blog for Mental Health in 2013 and joined the Mental Health Writers’ Guild.
Limits and Boundaries
Christmas Eve was An Emotional (and functional) Roller Coaster for me. I was happy while enjoying music and holiday traditions with people I love. But I had a lot of difficulty coping with lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks I needed to complete and stressed about my pending move, loud noise coming from my roommate’s TV, guilt and frustration over my mistakes, and insecurity about playing viola. I might have also felt some ambivalence about spending the day with Banji, due to the emotional effects I experienced while she was living 14 hours away.
In my post: “We all know it’ll never happen, so why do we waste our breath?” I described the other stress and difficulties I experienced during the winter holidays, including cancelling plans at the last minute. At the end of the post I made 2 New Year’s Resolutions:
- to figure out my limits
- to set and enforce clear boundaries
I’m not particularly confident that I’ve been doing either of those, but I have been making at least a small amount of intermittent effort. Continuing work on My Efforts to be Codependent No More and Detachment should help. I just need to stay focused – which is not always easy!
I wanted to focus on gender-related issues during January, so I called it Gender Bender January and planned to write gender-related posts multiple times per week. I learned that keeping up with a theme-based posting schedule is hard! – and not always in line with what I need this blog to be. Gender-related issues do play an important role in mental health, though – particularly for me – so I think it is an important topic to come back to.
One gender-related issue I’ve written about since January is the ideal of the slender body, to which I say: “FUDGE THAT!” I felt liberated while reading a chapter of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo (1993, University of California Press). The messages about the body that the article exposed have been hurting me my whole life, but I was finally able to get angry at them instead of at myself. On February 13th I recast them as the enemy and allied with my own body – cellulite and all! “FUDGE THAT!” was my first post to be reblogged by someone; I consider that a great honor. 😀
My Inner Menagerie
On January 10th I began a multi-post process of connecting with different aspects of myself that I generally would prefer to remain hidden.
The Dark Horse represents my difficult emotions – especially anger – which tend to cause me a lot of pain, but can be valuable allies if only I can harness them.
The Critic voices my self-criticisms, doubts, and insecurities – often very harshly. Although it tends to hurt me, the true problem with the Critic is that I have not accepted it as part of myself. If I can own those thoughts, I can word them in a nicer way and use them as constructive feedback.
Mushussu-Sirrush, dragon of chaos. Drawn in mechanical pencil. Colored with oil pastels.
Mushussu-Sirrush is the chaos in my life, some of which stems from early childhood experiences and much of which is self-inflicted (for example, by allowing my home to become cluttered). In that (February 5th) post, I expressed my feelings about the 15th anniversary of my father’s death and explored the theme of chaos.
Originally, I did not want to draw the Wyvern because it is a dragon that spreads disease and death; I prefer Anne McCaffrey’s portrayal of dragons as allies. However, I cannot deny that disease and death have both had a profound impact on my life. If I have to deal with something and often experience painful emotions related to it, I might as well take some time to make it something I can see – and make it as ugly and mean-looking as possible. At the time I did not want to color it in, but every time I look at the image online I want to add color to it.
The Ostrich in my poem, Trapped, represents the part of me that fears change and believes that I cannot recover / free myself because of some aspect of who I am. The Ostrich thinks I would have to change my very nature to be free.
Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.
I featured several secret aspects of myself in my post, Ending a Life. I’ve summarized the ones I consider most important here:
The Comforter is the part of me who places others’ emotions and needs before my own, believing that their needs are more important.
Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.
The Ghost represents my reaction when I feel too overwhelmed by my own painful emotions to connect with others; when I feel alienated from them and from the life energy around me.
Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from “their” sorrow.
The Servant is the part of me who sees the good in death: it ends the suffering of the person who dies and allows them to move on, and it allows loved ones to mourn, move on with their own lives, and sometimes have aspects of their lives that are better. This part of me feels detached from others’ sorrow but at the same time obligated to participate in the rituals that have meaning for them, but not always for me.
Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.
The Deserter is the part of me that wants to leave this world – and all its pain – behind. It is the part I struggle with regularly to remain engaged in my own life.
So far, I’ve been doing fairly well: I’m still here. But I’d like to be doing better; I’d like the struggle to be easier.
I revisited the Deserter on March 5th, literally taking a walk with it in darkness (i.e. at night). In the process, I came to understand that the Deserter is extremely frustrated with the lack of stability in my relationships.
My Healthy Side
On January 30th I was challenged to look at myself in a more positive light, and responded by considering two “What If …” questions:
- What if instead of seeing myself as a person who struggles with depression, I see myself as a person who successfully lives with depression – one day at a time?
- What if I have recovered from depression?
These questions give me a break from focusing on pathology and turn my focus instead to my strengths, the characteristics I already have and need to overcome depressive symptoms, possibly even the disorder in its entirety. Focusing on the ways in which I live successfully with depression, the ways in which I am already living the recovery I seek, also requires me to take personal responsibility. I can’t cower like the Ostrich: hoping someone will save me from the predators, and wishing I could be someone/something else. I need use my existing strengths to protect and free myself.
I have been interested in the Out of the Darkness Overnight for a couple of years now, and on February 7th I finally committed to walking this year. The final push I needed came during one of many instances when suicidal thoughts invaded my mind, but this time they asked a very useful question: What do I have to live for, besides other people? I replied with little things that I enjoy, many of which are sensual. That post serves as a very useful reminder of what is truly important to me; it can help me stay grounded.
When I realized what it would take to be able to complete the Overnight, I didn’t shy away. Instead, I recognized the changes I need to make to my lifestyle to be healthier and decided now’s as good a time as any to start acting on them.
Week 1 of training for the Out of the Darkness Overnight
Although it took me almost a month to really start training, I remain determined to take action to improve my own quality of life – and achieve a goal I can be very, very proud of!
Last, but certainly not least, there are strategies I can use to rewire my brain to focus more on the positive: my positive attributes, positive things that happen in my life, positive aspects of interactions with others, etc.
It can be hard to do this, especially if I’m having a bad day. Even on the days I find difficult, I can find 3 things that are positive – or at least one:
I’m still here!