Dear Mom, You Did Good

Lying in bed the other night, I was thinking about when this all began. “This”: My lifelong battle with mental illness in its many varied forms; showing up as depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks, and finally, bipolar disorder. This past Spring my mother and I had an enlightening and healing conversation in which we both agreed that it was around the age of seven that I changed. I became, somehow, an unhappy child.

I was laying in bed, thinking about this. This pivotal year in my life. Thinking about how there was no rhyme or reason for this sudden shift of brain chemistry and fate and then it occurred to me: why my mother had, during that Spring conversation, said to me, “I always thought it was my fault.”

The year I was seven was the year she and my father first separated. Is it possible that somehow my mother had convinced herself that if only she had been able to make her marriage work, I wouldn’t have developed a mental illness?

The thought brought tears to my eyes, and then a sudden and profound healing and gratitude. I realized what must have been the depths of my mother’s guilt and despair over my years of struggling, diagnoses, and hospitalizations. I realized that while I had spent years trying to understand why my parents hadn’t done more to help me, my parents had likely spent years trying to understand where they had gone wrong.

Mental illness is no one’s fault. There are contributing genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors (among other things) that interact to cause mental illness. There is no one thing that can predict whether one person or another will develop a mental illness. Two people with the exact same genetic and environmental factors can experience the same life events and one will develop a mental illness, while the other won’t. Science can’t tell us exactly why.

I have never once in my life thought to myself, I have a mental illness because my parents separated when I was young. Sure there were years when I wished they had gotten me more or different help, but it never occurred to me to blame them for the illness itself. When I was teenager I remember people telling me that someday I would realize that my parents had done the best they could, that I would no longer blame them. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like my parents had done the best they could. But over the last ten years, this idea became so ridiculous as to feel obsolete.

The idea that my mom could have somehow saved me from mental illness is too ludicrous to even consider. But it wasn’t until the other night that I realized my mother might not know this.

Mom,

Mental illness has tried to kill me over and over again. It has tried to convince me that I am crazy, worthless, stupid, fat, lazy, unloved, and fundamentally unlovable. It has twisted my thoughts, my beliefs about myself and made me believe that my friends and family would be better off without me. But the things I learned from you have kept me alive.

I learned from you that it is not only okay to take of yourself, but necessary. And since we are not always good at taking care of ourselves, it is sometimes okay to let others take of us. If I hadn’t learned this from you, I never would have survived this. I am strong, resilient, and brave because you raised me. I am still alive because you are my mother.

Thank you for doing the best you could in the face of this senseless and life changing illness. There is nothing to forgive. Thank you for being my mother. I love you.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who blames themselves for something between you. Maybe they have reason for blaming themselves, maybe they don’t. Think about the people in your life, take the time to thank them today. It will do you both some good.

Bullet Journaling for your Mental Health

Have I mentioned my new obsession Bullet Journaling?

I have written in journals on and off since I was a very young child. In our recent move, my ver first diary surfaced with only twenty small pages filled out. Many of the journals I used in my teenage years are packed full of scrawling ands notes.

But in the past few years I’ve written in journals only very intermittently. Even as I have not journaled regularly, I have missed it.

So when my sister and then my mom both told me about bullet journaling inside of a week, I decided to look into it. They had started a pinterest board with ideas for their bullet journals. Once I read about them at bulletjournal.com, I pulled an unused journal off my shelf and jumped in with both feet.

Why Bullet Journaling is Good for your Mental Health

The idea behind the bullet journal is to keep all your notes, appointments, lists, and whatever else in one place. There’s an index at the front so you can easily find what you’ve put in your journal. Every time you put in something new, you log it in the index. You can log page by page or use categories to group entries together.

The central purpose of the bullet journal is the daily log and rapid logging. It employs key symbols to log your daily activites. Here’s what mine looks like:

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But for me, more important than helping me get organized, the Bullet Journal helps me stay focused and mindful. I can keep a long term list of things that need to get done on my future log, weekly log, or on some other master list page, and only put on my daily log the things that I think I can achieve that day. This helps keep me from getting overwhelmed, shutting down, and getting nothing done.

The other really helpful aspect of my BuJo has been the Gratitude page and the Goal Tracker. Here is what my goal tracker looks like:

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At the top of the layout I have the days of the month. This is my very first goal tracker and it included the last week of February, which is why it’s so squished. On the right hand side I have a list of the habits or goals I would like to do/achieve every day. My tracker includes: taking my medication every day, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, spending time in the sun, playing with my dogs, going for walks, blogging, working on my book, gratitude, days gone without eating sugar, spending time with husband without screens, drinking enough water, calling or spending time with a friend, writing journal pages.

You’ll notice that I’ve been more successful with some of these than others (I’ve eaten sugar every day since I started this for example…). The idea is not to shame yourself for not succeeding, but to give yourself credit for when you do. For me, it has been motivating to look at this and see, ‘Wow, I haven’t spent any time outside in a week, that’s not good. Let’s go outside right now.’ or ‘Hey look, I’ve logged what I’m grateful for every day for the past week, I’m going to try to keep up that streak! How cool would it be if I logged gratitude for every day of the month?!’.

What If I Have No Goals and I Stay in Bed All Day

I may have been a little overly optimistic when I created my habit tracker. Lots of people only track a few things and there are a lot of different ways to do it. You can track anything, taking a shower, getting out of bed, days without smoking or doing some other harmful habit, exactly how much water you drink, days you managed to leave the house, etc. Wherever you are in your life right now, the habit tracker can help you achieve whatever goals you have.

And if you don’t have any goals at all? Well, then the habit tracker is even more important for you. If you can’t think of any goals you want to track for yourself, think about the goals that your counselor, friend, or family member has expressed for you. Write that down, and even if you only achieve it one day out of the month, you can look back at that and see that you did indeed accomplish something.

More About the BuJo

BohoBerry has been my favorite place for information and inspiration. She has some great ideas of her own and also does a great job of curating other people’s bujo ideas.

I started out be following the simple instructions at bulletjournal.com. After the first week, I started to see what worked for me and what didn’t. I kept looking for inspiration and changed up my monthly, weekly, and daily layouts to make them work for me.

My new favorite layout is the Calendex, developed by Eddy Hope. Heres what mine looks like:

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It’s my first attempt, so I’ve had some trial and error with doing it “correctly”. (You’ll note the rnadom line drawn through the bottom quarter of the Calendex. This has no meaning and was drawn by accident when I was creating this page while watching TV. A lesson in mindfulness…) I use the colored dots for things like Birthdays and Holidays that I have in one place at the beginning of my BuJo. And then I use colored boxes with page numbers for the events on my calendar. One other change I made is that when I have an event that lasts two or more days, I put it on the left side of the month so that I can make one long block, like this:

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The purple block in the second column denotes a three-day trip my hubby and I are taking. The Calendex acts as both my future log and my monthly log and my regular layouts are weekly and daily logs.

And this is my favorite weekly log, which is sort of an amalgam of a bunch of other weekly logs that I found on Pinterest:

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I found that I needed more space for Notes for the week and Next week then I did for the individual days, which is how I ended up with this.

Bullet Journaling is a great place to get a little daily creativity into my life and it also helps me be more mindful. I hope you will get inspired and join the BuJo community!

 

Before you fall asleep

At night before I fall asleep, I try to imagine what the next day might look like. I try to come up with more for myself to do. There are obvious options: clean, organize, exercise, cook. There are hobby-type things I could do: color, sew, scrapbook, write, knit, read. These are the things that I do on a regular basis in small amounts (except knitting, I do a lot of knitting).

In New Jersey, I was overloaded with family and activity. Every day I went to sleep knowing that the next day would be full of family, friends, good food, and meaningful action. I fell into a deep sleep easily, slept well and woke up excited about each day.

And then we came home. Back to the land of no family, few friends, and even less to do.

I want more. I want to learn new things and meet new people. But more than anything, I want a community. I miss my family in Albuquerque and I miss my family in New Jersey. I don’t have family here, not in the way I mean. The kind of family that you choose, that chooses you, that loves you because they want to not because they have to. It took me ten years to accumulate that family in Albuquerque. It’s not going to happen overnight in Tucson.

I don’t know where to start, but at the very least, I’ll try to be grateful before I fall asleep. And maybe that gratitude will lead me to the next thing.

Here’s what I’m grateful for today:

  1. The technology that allows me to visit my family on the other side of the continent.
  2. My incredibly supportive and loving husband.
  3. My sweet, soft, and snuggly doggies.
  4. The luxury of time.
  5. A warm and comfortable house.

What are you grateful for?

Mental Health of the World

In light of the utter chaos that occurs every day all around the world, no more so than in the last few weeks, it feels small to talk about mental health. There are so many people starving, struggling to survive, and dying in extreme and violent ways. It can seem insignificant to discuss and worry about other problems.

And then I remember that mental health would go a long way to making our world a better place. If emotionally wounded people could be helped and healed and loved, there would be far less violence in the world. If we could speak and act towards each other with love and kindness, there would be far less fear and misunderstanding between us. If we could learn to accept people of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and ideologies, then we might have hope of peace.

As it is, news all over is full of death and destruction. It is not all that is happening and certainly the news is tailored, but it is happening. And more of the world’s population is in danger with each minute that passes.
In the middle of this gratitude season, I must remember to cherish those around me with love and action. I invite you to join me in being my brother’s keeper and defining brother as widely as I possibly can. I will smile at everyone I see. I will (try to) assume the best of all people no matter the circumstances. I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I will remember that we are all human beings. This is how we will heal each other. This is how we will heal the world.
This happened over the weekend.
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This is Margrite Karabella Yarns in color 6 from Grandma’s Spinning Wheel. Yes I bought my yarn and cast it on instead of finishing the two sweaters I have going right now. Also, these have multiplied.
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They are a wonderful break when my other knitting gets boring. This week is for cooking. I will try to resist the urge to take pictures of what I cook. I hope you all have a wonderful Monday to your holiday week.