Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting through the workday

This was my desk at the end of the workday Tuesday night.



Tuesday is layout day at the newspaper.
Here’s the basic process:
In the morning, the editor, the other staff writer and I may do a variety of things, including writing stories, checking on stories, making phone calls, etc. Late morning, we have a meeting with the advertising manager and decide how many pages we’ll have in the paper and, generally, what stories will go where.
The big decisions are about what goes on page one and the “second” page one, page three. Sounds confusing, but basically page three has the second-tier stories on it. If you think about opening up a newspaper, your eyes probably go to page three before they hit page two.
Then the other staff writer and I start laying out the pages. The news editor at a sister paper helps with layout, too, and the ad manager lays out the classifieds.
As we finish pages, we print out “proofs,” and the editor and proofreader start reading and marking things that need correction/adding/deleting/changing. If needed, I also read and edit.
Later, when we’ve finished laying out, the other staff writer and I make corrections, turn the pages into PDF files and print them out. The three of us editorial staff proof the pages again.
Then we send the pages to press via the Internet. The actual pressroom is an hour or more from Altavista.
This past Tuesday, we finished up at about 6 p.m. (Sometimes we’re much later if we have something to cover in the evening and then write about it.) I had to stay after to get a head start on updating the newspaper website because I need to be out of the office for part of the day Wednesday to cover a couple of trials.

I do a lot of these activities every Tuesday without even thinking about them. And sometimes—OK, often—I get stressed out. I become tense and anxious before I fully realize what has happened.

I’m trying to be more mindful these days. I did a little experiment Tuesday. I worked through the normal lunchtime wrestling with the layout. At about 3:30, I reached a stopping point and hurried out to grab something to eat. I chose something quick: McDonald’s.

Yes, my eating habits tend to spiral down on Tuesdays.

While I was waiting in the drive-thru line, which really seemed to be taking too long to get through—I realized I was getting uptight and too stressed. So I turned on the radio and put it on WVTF, the public radio station in my area, and listened to classical music.

“Maybe this will calm me down,” I thought.

And it did, a bit. It certainly made my wait a little more pleasant.

Later, back at the office, Larry came by for a few minutes. He was there to pick up something from me, but it was nice just to see his face and laugh a bit with him.

And we got the paper done. We always do.

I’m learning more and more that it’s the little things during the day that can help calm the anxiety and remind me that I don’t want to hurry through the day too fast. It’s the only day I have, after all.

Now I need to work on staying away from the fast food.

What little things do you do to get through the day as easily as possible?



**And a note about Friday. I was going to post last Friday about a special assignment I had for the paper that kept me out until the early morning hours. But the story got delayed a week. So I’ll tell you about it this Friday.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Asking the question, Who am I?

"Hidden clover" 


Asking myself the question, who am I, is not new for me. I have often wondered who I am in relation to mental illness. Would I be the same person if I didn’t have OCD? How would I be different if I didn’t have depression? Am I who I am partly because of the mental illness?

I am asking myself the question with a new concern now.
Since my mother’s suicide attempt a month ago, I’ve been flooded with all kinds of memories from my childhood and young adulthood.
Therapy over the years made me aware of my unhealthy childhood. And I made great strides in moving away from negative beliefs about myself. In many ways, I thrived.
But I stayed in a toxic relationship with my mother because I believed I had to. And I never fully faced what my childhood had been like and how much the anger and resentment I had stemmed from that.
My mother’s actions and the aftereffects a month ago tipped me over.
I’ve had to face the fact that I had a lousy childhood. There’s no longer any way I can dress it up and make it look reasonably OK for the rest of the world. It’s time for me to be honest about it with myself and with others.
And I have to look at myself and figure out how much of this past junk I’m still carrying around with me.

With the help of my psychiatrist, I’ve realized that my way of being in the world and my way of handling relationships were heavily influenced and shaped by my mother.
I’ve worked on this before, but now I am especially mindful about the ways I may be carrying on the habits learned from an abusive past.
So now that I know without a doubt that my mother’s influence was and continues to be toxic to me, how do I answer that question—who am I?

As I am apt to do in any new situation, I’ve been reading a lot. One helpful work I came across in my search was an article called “You Carry theCure In Your Own Heart,” by AndrewVachss. The article was first published in 1994 in Parade Magazine.
Vachss is an author and an attorney who works with children and youth.
Here is a passage from that article:

“If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self-help until you learn to self-reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what "goodness" really is. Adopting the abuser's calculated labels—"You're crazy. You're ungrateful. It didn't happen the way you say"—only continues the cycle.”

This new journey of re-understanding of who I am is a difficult process for me, harder than it ever was before.
Meditation, reading, and writing in my journal have become very important ways to become aware of who I am without my mother, without the belief system that she started me on as a child. I want to be aware of what my values are, what my core beliefs are.
I keep telling myself, “I can do this. I am not alone.”
And I’m not alone. I know there are others who have gone before me who have overcome similar obstacles. I know there are those struggling with the same sorts of issues. I know there are people cheering me on. I believe there is a presence of Spirit—God, Creator—that I don’t understand but am becoming more aware of.
I pray. I meditate. I read. I write. I knit. I laugh with my husband. I hold my cat. I follow my doctor’s instructions and take the medication that helps enable me to do what I need to do.

And I find out who I am.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Knitting and getting rid of perfect

I am loving this knitting.
As I told you in a post last week, I just started knitting. I’m really enjoying it.

 
See Chase Bird on the right side of the photo? He's sitting on the treat bag that he knocked off the table.

When I think of my father’s sister, my Aunt Esther, the first picture that comes to mind is of her sitting in her house, holding a conversation while knitting away. I hear the click of her knitting needles. I see the movement of her hands and arms.
She would glance at her work every now and then. Otherwise, her focus was on the person she was talking to.
I still have the lavender sweater and long stocking hat she knitted for me when I was a small child. I have the afghan she knitted my parents. The work is beautiful.

Now I’m knitting, though not nearly as well as Aunt Esther.
I find it challenging, especially the purl stitch. My fingers still feel awkward with that stitch.
It’s also absorbing, holding my attention even when I’m watching TV. It’s meditative. It’s soothing. I like the rhythm.
And I like the freedom of creating something. At first, I ripped out the whole piece when I made a mistake. I don’t yet know how to fix a dropped stitch or other mistake, and I wanted to keep my work “perfect.”

But that wasn’t any fun. And I decided that, by golly, I was going to enjoy this. We need to enjoy what we do as much as possible. Do you agree?

So I stopped starting over and just went on knitting even when I knew I had dropped a stitch or somehow added one.

Chase Bird likes knitting, too. Rather, he likes the yarn. He thinks it’s terrible that I don’t let him play with it.
He makes flying leaps toward my lap, his mouth aiming for the yarn. I tug it away from him. He jumps on my lap, trying to get at the soft thread. Alas, I take it away again.
And to make matters worse, I then takes pictures of him.





Maybe someday I’ll knit as well as Aunt Esther. I’ll click my needles together and not even look down. Then Chase Bird will have a better chance with the yarn.


What activity soothes you? Do you practice any skill that an older relative also practiced?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stigma about yourself

Bring Change 2 Mind is an organization that works “to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.” I believe in their mission and message, and I follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@bc2m).
I keep seeing their message about a Stigma Free Summer, which they explain on their website: “BC2M wishes its community a #StigmaFreeSummer. Let's start conversations, reserve judgment, extend empathy and end stigma.”

The definition of stigma, according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is “a mark of shame or discredit.”
There are people who feel like having a mental illness is like having a mark of shame or discredit. A stigma.
Stigma about mental illness sometimes is directed by people who are misinformed or careless toward people living with mental illness.
Sometimes it’s people living with mental illness who direct stigma at themselves.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about “Depression and lingering stigma.” In that post, I wrote about my struggle to reach the point of asking for help:

“Because no matter how many times I’ve gone through these bouts of depression, I still doubt myself. I still tell myself that I should be able to deal with this depression on my own, without a doctor’s help. After all, I’m already on an antidepressant. After all, I should be able to rise above it, snap out of it.
Yes, I sometimes buy into the stigma about depression.”

I’m not feeling the same now as I did when I wrote that post. My depression is under control.
But I am experiencing a lot of anxiety and intrusive thoughts, connected to my damaged relationship with my mother.
I don’t doubt the decision I made. But I’m having trouble adjusting to it. I think I’m grieving, in a way.
And I haven’t wanted to write about it on this blog or tell others about it. I have feared that I should be able to deal with it better since I reached a decision after all the years of therapy and soul searching.
Maybe I was dwelling on it too much. Maybe I wanted to feel bad. Maybe I should just snap out of it. That’s what I’ve been thinking.
Self-stigma.

I’d like to be a part of a stigma free summer. So you may see more posts here about how I’m healing, what I’m experiencing, what I’d doing about the guilt that still plagues me emotionally, though rationally I feel OK.
Maybe I will start some conversations. Maybe I will remind someone else that he or she is not alone in having confusing feelings.

Let’s get rid of the stigma.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Back in nature

I had a busy start to the weekend. I had to work Friday night into Saturday morning. (I will tell you the story behind that, but it will have to wait until this Friday.)
I got home early Saturday morning and found that though I was very tired, I couldn’t fall deeply asleep. I dozed off and on until it was time to feed Chase Bird about 6 a.m. Then I went back to bed and tried again.
Saturday passed in a blur of sleep, going out for a late lunch, reading, and more sleep.
Sunday I knew what I wanted to do. I had been eying some Queen Anne’s Lace along the street across from our house. I wanted to get some close-ups.
My camera has been sitting in its bag for much of the summer. I just haven’t felt the energy or desire to capture slivers of the world.
The Queen Anne’s Lace was my get-back-into-it bit of nature.














It felt good to use my camera to get out of my own mind for a while. And being out in nature reminds me—if I am mindful—that I am not the center of the universe.

That’s a pretty good thing to remember, don’t you think?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Life goes on

No matter how bad things can be, life around us does go on, and eventually we have to get back into the swing of things and remember our dreams and goals and the seemingly little things that make life good.
I’ve been busy with work at the newspaper. I’ve pushed myself to do things that are self-care measures for me, things like reading, meditating, and listening to music.
I picked up some crochet work to keep my hands—and my mind—busy. Sometimes I like to sit with Larry and watch a good TV show or movie. But it’s hard for me to just watch the screen. I get restless. So working with my hands helps.
I like using the crocheted knitted dishcloths, so I started one of those.




I like to crochet. But I’ve always wanted to knit. I knew how to cast on stitches and do the knit stitch, but nothing else. I read instructions, but I couldn’t make sense of how to do the purl stitch.
A couple of wonderful bloggers that I keep up with have started knitting and have written about their adventures. Buttons of Buttons Thoughts learned to knit and has created some beautiful scarves and hats. Her cows like to model those hats!
And Debbie of It’s All About Purple recently learned to knit and made a stunning scarf. I know she’s going to continue making lovely things.
These two women inspired me to try knitting again, and they encouraged me to get help from online videos.
So I did that. I watched a video on how to purl (over and over) and (finally) was able to call out to Larry in the next room: “I can purl!”
Here’s a sample of knitting and purling. It’s not perfect, but I had fun.



I still don’t know how to cast off work or how to fix mistakes, but I will learn. Meanwhile, I have a new hobby to enjoy and to keep my hands busy.


What’s the newest skill you’ve learned? And when you watch TV, do you have to do something with your hands, too?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Focusing on the emotions that are



I am afraid of snakes. Very afraid. I’m so afraid of them, I have a hard time looking at pictures of them. I feel anxious just hearing other peoples’ stories about encountering them.
Larry has found about five snake skins in the yard this summer. For a few days after he finds them, I move carefully when I go outside. I examine every stick from afar before I venture into the yard.
When he saw a live snake in the side yard near his truck, I could barely listen to his story. I thought about it later, feeling anxious and worried. I wished for winter.

So why am I including with this post a photo of a snake skin?
I made myself take the picture. Though I felt fear, I made myself walk up to the skin. I held up my phone and took several photos. I made myself look at the photos.
I’m not sure if this “exposure” did much good. When I was flipping through the photos on my phone earlier this week, I shuddered—I did that “jump out of my skin” move—when I unexpectedly saw one of the snake skin photos.
But still, I keep looking at the photo. And I’m sharing it with you.

I’ve been dealing with anxiety over life issues in a similar way. Life has been hard lately, as you know. Bedtime is probably the hardest time because I have less to distract me.
I decided that I would try an experiment. Instead of trying to immediately change my thoughts or cover up the bad emotions with visualizations or calming recitations, I would focus on experiencing the anxiety.
I feel the anxiety the most in my chest. It’s like a weight in the center of my chest. When panic comes, my chest physically hurts.
I have focused on the hate I’ve felt, too. I’m not proud to say that, but that’s what I’ve felt at times. It, too, is a heavy weight.
Anxiety, hate, anger, hopelessness—they all settle in my chest. I feel like it’s going to burst.
I want to get up and move or talk or read or listen to music.
But I try to lie there and be mindful of how I’m feeling, even for just a short while.
My hope is that the more I face my emotions, the less afraid I’ll be of them and the less I will do to avoid facing the issues that are causing the emotions in the first place.

My focus on emotions is not a new idea. There is a lot of good information out there about living mindfully and accepting our emotions. I did an online search and found some good, science-based information HERE and HERE.

One good thing that has come out of my experimentation with this is that I’ve become less afraid of being still and alone with my thoughts and emotions. I hope this leads to more calmness and peace.

And the snake skin photo? I hope from now on the only snake skin I see will be in a picture. That’s about as far as I want to go with that exposure.

How do you deal with uncomfortable emotions?