Intuition: a partnership of gut and brain.

On a bloggy note, about half of what I plan to write doesn’t get written or completed. Today’s post is such a deviation, because today, I’m thinking about disciplines and organizations that taught me simple tenets I’ve never forgotten:

(From piano lessons) Hold back

(From Girl Scouts) Be prepared

(From the Army) Stay alert to stay alive

(From boxing) Keep your hands up and your chin down

Years ago, this young boxing-gym guy (18? 19?) I didn’t know very well refreshed me on all of these lessons together in one second. Our coaches had us sparring, so our mission was to try to hit each other while avoiding getting hit. One of his punches landed through a weakness in my defense. It was a solid right hand. The hardest hit I ever took was from him, and it was my fault, not his.

No one who’s seriously training in combat sports faces their sparring partner thinking, “This person isn’t really going to hit me.” Regardless of who your opponent is to you – friend, gym comrade, etc. – you expect them to try to hit you, and they expect you to try to hit them, and you both think about this as you mentally prepare your respective defense games… and that’s the whole point of the sport. The rules in a combat sports ring (ring, cage, dohyo, whatever) are clear-cut.

Unfortunately, the most treacherous ring of all is the world, itself. When you enter a combat sports ring, you know you’re going to get hit if you drop your guard or make poor strategic decisions. You know that the other person is there to destroy you, and that the only one you can trust to come to your defense is yourself.

In the ring of the world, we don’t know who’s going to do what, or if, or when. The hits we take in real life come in all forms. Every day brings news reports about crimes committed by people known and often loved by the victims, but still, you don’t go around thinking in defense mode around friends and loved ones. You trust that they won’t hurt you, because you have a relationship with an undercurrent of that trust serving as the foundation of your bond.

Trust is scary because it’s easily betrayed. Fortunately, we’re inherently armed. Whether I remember to use it or not, I know that I have one weapon to hold my trust in check: my intuition.

My intuition is a weapon of self-defense that I got for free because I was born with it. Humans are equipped with inner alarms critical to survival, yet it’s so easy to disregard them. Deception or bodily harm. Strangers or people you know. A “bad feeling” that changes your mind about going somewhere you’d planned to go, and then a fatal multi-car crash happens at the time you would’ve been there. Intuition is a partnership of gut and brain, and we all have it built inside of us.

It’s hard to always hear and heed intuition when there’s this other part of the brain that wants to override it for one reason or another.

 

Muntjac deer – my spirit animal (photo credit: L. Bruce Kekule)

 

It’s easy and even natural to drop guard, to read about a murder and say, that can’t happen to me.

Thinking about intuition always brings me back to those tenets I was taught in piano lessons, Girl Scouts, the Army, and combat sports training: Hold back. Be prepared. Stay alert to stay alive. Keep your hands up and your chin down.  

And listen. That’s the most important lesson of all. Our parents usually teach us that one.

 

 

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Why I scroll past mental illness denial memes. (Thoughts on happiness as a state of being.)

Self-help has good intentions, but I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. I mean, I shouldn’t be, but I’m still kind of astonished when I scroll through social media and see that suddenly, everyone has become a life coach.

Wisdom wrapped up in little square boxes. I post memes, too, sometimes. The last one I posted said, “Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.” Most of the few I’ve posted have been fitness-related.

My pet peeve of the self-help meme universe is the genre I think of as “mental illness denial.” At the tired center of this genre, you get phrases like, “Happiness is a choice.” “Happiness is a choice, not a result.” “Today I choose to be happy.” “Happiness is not a feeling, but a choice.” And so on. I know that these are meant to serve as motivational, but I have a hard time with this category.

Happiness isn’t always a choice when you’re clinically or acutely depressed. The opposite of happiness is depression, and depression isn’t a choice, either. Happiness and depression are states of being, states unalterable by neat and tidy little happiness instructions. Glib quotes like “happiness is a choice” or “today I choose to be happy” can’t loosen bleakness embedded in your consciousness.

Dear Everyone Living with Mental Illness:

It’s not your fault if you can’t attain happiness by simply waking up and stating an intention to choose it that day. You’re not a failure. We know that “Today I choose to be happy” can’t account for a day that hasn’t happened yet. We know that a conscious navigation of our thoughts toward a mindset of happiness just isn’t possible all of the time.

Scroll on by those pebbles of wisdom online, because the last thing you need in front of your face when you’re struggling with depression is a meme suggesting that it’s your own fault if you’re not happy.

I get you.

What we might be able to attain is a state of being okay in specific instances; it’s worth floundering between anger and sadness in the process of talking ourselves into okayness with the situation. We have to get brave and get real with ourselves, and this can be difficult. It comes down to mental strength, an especially relatable concept for the mentally ill, as “okay” is more of a mindset into which we can will ourselves. For us, “okay” is “well.” Wellness is a solid aspiration.

Happiness is a state of being. It’s my humble opinion that the declaration “Happiness is a choice” cheapens the experience of being happy. I think it makes happiness superficial. (I may be interpreting the word differently than you do. Do you feel that happiness is the same as joyfulness? As contentment?)

We all have our definitions, interpretations, and strategies to get us through. A few of mine:

1). I work on reaching a state of okayness, and then I seize on that and do what I can with it. Okayness is a good foundation for me. It’s something I can top off with music, for instance… and then I can derive joy from those moments. It’s always the little things.

2). It sometimes helps to throw together a list of joyful little things, just quickly, without thinking about it. Reading over such a list can be soothing. I free-wrote a list for this post. It came out looking like this (in no particular order):

music.
poetry.
stories: fiction and creative non-fiction, whether depicted on the page or on a screen.
plants.
animals and their rights.
fitness and combat sports training.
paranormal, horror, thriller, action.
lipstick, band shirts, skin care.
sumo and mma.
desert and the sea.
black, gunmetal gray, periwinkle and other blue-violets.
tortoises.
cats.
volcanos.
albatross!
the zombie emoji.
food writing.
zodiac.
blueberry scented anything.
anticipation.
buddha.

3). I take a cliché of vague resignation like “Life is full of mysteries” and I tag “mysteries make life interesting” at the end. Then I have something of intrigue to ponder, rather than the hopeless quality of the mystery, itself.

4). I take optimism carefully. I’m all for optimism, but I’m even more for cautious optimism.

“Happiness is a choice” – not that easy. Such declarations in these self-help memes don’t account for we who battle depression. Don’t let them make you feel worse. We know we can experience moments of happiness… days of happiness, even. As for those other days, well, we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves. We know that we’re trying.

Love,
Kristi

~~~~~

Afternote: this pic is the last you’ll see of me in these glasses. Yeah, I got new ones. New prescription, new frames. It’s the little things.

 

Retired glasses. [23 February 2019)

 

 

The question: The fight. (Mental wellness post.)

I recently got to thinking about the perception that fighting is equated to violence. What follows here is a train of thought coming from this.

On a few occasions in the past, I’d been taken to task for my verbiage. It’s damaging to be flippant with our word choices, I’d been reminded. This is true, absolutely. I know this, and I appreciate the reminder. At the same time, the expressions I’d used on those occasions… “to fight to the death.” “To slay.” … what do these sorts of expressions mean to me? To vanquish.

Fighting isn’t necessarily violent, but it’s always a struggle. The truth is that we’re always fighting.

We fight constantly in some way or sense, for something, or for someone… or maybe just for ourselves. Perhaps our fight involves grasping for meaning in our current state of being, or in our lives, in general. Even as we meditate in mindful serenity, we know that somewhere inside, we’re fighting our way through an existential crisis. In my opinion, this struggle is simply a part of the human condition.

I don’t know what you’re fighting for, but I know that you’re fighting for something, because you’re human, and you’re alive.

Being alive means that we’re in conflict. Poets and writers are keenly aware that there can be no story, no plot without a conflict. We’re writing for a human audience; being in conflict is an intrinsic fact of being human. Thus, we weave conflict into our stories in order to give them meaning.

We fight all sorts of things: boredom, sleep, traffic, fear, temptation. We fight not to laugh. We fight to keep our mouths shut. We fight back tears. We fight to breathe. We fight for our rights, and we fight cancer.

When we discipline ourselves, it’s a fight. For instance, we discipline ourselves to abide by moderation, or to get ourselves to the gym. Disciplining ourselves to go to the gym is sometimes a fight so tedious, we benefit from arranging to meet with a comrade for mutual encouragement and motivation. It’s helpful and advisable to fight in pairs… to have a partner, a back-up.

We fight with ourselves when trying to start something. We fight with ourselves when trying to quit something.

We fight for our freedom. We fight for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We fight injustices. We fight for those who don’t have a voice, or for those whose voices have been silenced.

We have so many fights, we can’t engage in them all. We have to pick the ones worthy of our attention, time, and energy. This is our personal judgement to make, which is, in itself, a fight.

It’s easy to forget that it’s not our place to pick others’ battles for them, and it’s a mistake to judge others for the fights they choose.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? When we feel strongly about something, it’s hard to say nothing when we see others expressing their own, strong feelings… feelings that oppose ours. Then we have to fight to remain civil. This fight within ourselves can be brutal. It’s fight on top of fight, and it’s harder when we know that losing is as easy as winning.

This is unavoidable, and it’s a part of the reason why I seriously contemplated leaving Facebook. All the fighting going on before my eyes over there gets exhausting. It’s not like I’m not also engaged in various fights of my own. Not one amongst us goes around free of conflict.

When combat sports athletes get tired during a fight, they get breaks. A bell rings, they disengage, and they retreat to their corners, where their corner-people are waiting to hydrate them, tend to their wounds, and prop up their morale with forceful yet encouraging words and directives. There’s a referee to stop the fight when things get out of hand… when the fighter can still walk away. It would be great if a bell could ring on social media every once in a while so we can go to our corners and compose ourselves.

A little kindness can go a long way in creating our corners of respite.

 

Growing in the dark

 

We can also breathe a little easier at night knowing that we survived another day. This is a victory. A vanquishing.

 

 

Staying.

Your irrelevant newsflash of the day: I’m keeping my personal Facebook account. Just so you know.

This was a grand decision. I’d about made up my mind to deactivate, as some of you are aware, and then I reconsidered. Like many of you, I had more than one foot out the door; I’d stepped almost all the way out the door, leaving just my shadow in Facebook. In my opinion, Facebook has become absurd on many levels. I was relieved to have decided to part ways with it… but that would have meant parting ways with everyone.

Confession: I loathe FB.

Conundrum: FB is the only way I can stay connected to many friends and most family.

Connections won. I see friends and family too seldom as it is… I’d miss them more were I to abandon my digital hub of connections.

Still, I have mixed feelings about this.

The poet Miss Dickinson comes to mind: in her later years, she reportedly never left her house, rarely left her bedroom, and spoke to visitors only from behind her closed door. Even more than living as a recluse, she seldom saw anyone. This could be me at some point, only my closed door would be a computer screen. It seems that the digital age has encouraged our inclinations toward complacency in solitude, because we don’t feel as alone when we’re linked to each other online.

I’m an introvert. I love to be alone. But I don’t see that I’d enjoy the life of a recluse the way Miss Dickinson did. In “I Had Been Hungry All the Years,” she wrote:

Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.

One could say that the reason Emily Dickinson didn’t feel “hungry” was that she stayed inside. She shielded herself from wanting. Physical isolation was her comfort. She did have her liaisons, though. She kept up an active correspondence with many, writing hundreds of letters and poems over the course of years. Miss Dickinson was ahead of her time in more ways than one. She stayed connected through her letters and poems the way we stay connected through the internet.

I’m content to sit at home, alone and writing, most of the day and on most days… but I don’t want to be isolated.

 

(Captured in the wild with Nenette, August 7, 2018)

 

I enjoy the physical company of others – and not just at the gym! So I’ve been making more plans to have lunch or coffee with friends. I have some time, now, after all.

At any rate, I’m not sure how this post deviated from “I’m keeping my personal Facebook account” to a reflection on the habits of reclusive poets. To leave you with an almost as-irrelevant finish: I resisted the urge to fill this post with an exuberance of dashes in further homage to Miss Dickinson. Just so you know.

“That one time I went to the shrink…” (My worst therapist experiences!)

You’ve likely had at least one negative therapist experience if you’ve been in therapy for any length of time. This is normal; no one meshes with everyone. It’s like psych medication… you have to find what works for you. I’ve been lucky to have had mostly good experiences with my counselors over years of on-and-off therapy.

I do have a couple of bad experiences to share, though, so I thought I’d go ahead and do that since I regularly discuss my mental health adventures in this space. Moreover, I know it can help to hear about others’ bad experiences!

Let me say that my two unfortunate therapist experiences weren’t bad in the usual ways. That’s how my life works. I can’t just have a normal bad therapist experience. It has to be a really freaking bizarre therapist experience, maybe more bizarre than bad.

First, there was:

  • The shrink who ghosted me.

I’d gone to this counselor for several months. I thought we had a good rapport, so I was surprised when I went to my appointment one day and she stood me up… as in, I knocked on the office’s front door, and she didn’t come to answer it. She was there. I knew she was there. I could see the light on in her office through the glass. She just didn’t come to the door! I even called her as I stood outside. Maybe she can’t hear me knocking. She didn’t answer her phone.

We later re-scheduled. The same thing happened again. I don’t remember if there was a third time, but for all of her apologies and excuses, I never saw her again.

To be ghosted by someone in your personal life is one thing. (I’ve had it happen to me, and I’m guilty of having done it, myself. Not proud of it. Just being real.) But by a counselor? A therapist? I’d never heard of any professional in the field of mental health doing this kind of thing to a client.

You place your trust in your therapist, right? Trust is a fundamental of the therapist/patient relationship. That’s why you keep going back. You’ve established trust, and you’re confident that you’re in a safe place free of judgement. Trusting this particular counselor turned out to be a mistake. After those last experiences, I felt worse than I did before I started going to her.

I might as well have wired $1,000 to a Nigerian prince to get the riches promised, only to discover the scam and find myself $1,000 poorer.

 

Next:

  • The shrink who lectured me for an hour about the evils of gluten.

He was an interim counselor, so it was the one and only time I saw him. But during that one appointment, all he did was try to convert me to a gluten-free lifestyle.

His proselytizing had nothing to do with mental health. What happened was he started out reviewing my list of medications, noticed that I was seeing a rheumatologist for autoimmune issues, and decided that I could easily cure myself of everything. All I had to do was go gluten-free. Miracles happen once you quit consuming gluten. I spent the rest of the session receiving an education for which I never signed up.

And I mean, he went on at length into biochemical detail, even showing me anatomy graphics to illustrate how gluten was wreaking havoc on my immune system and destroying my body from the inside out. His conviction was profound. A true evangelist, he made sure to pull out a pamphlet for me to take home. His passion for the gluten-free lifestyle bordered on fervor that almost edged me out of the room, but I sat frozen in awe. Without a doubt, this was the most bizarre and unhelpful counseling session I’d ever attended.

Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! Rest assured, most of my experiences have been good, if not excellent. The two that I’ve shared above are anomalies… don’t let them deter you if you’re thinking of seeking assistance. Talk therapy does many worlds of good. It does help.

 

 

I see the bad mood arising.

Two different days over the last week had me considering my inability to lift myself out of a bad mood. I’m not talking about the blankness that sometimes grabs the chronically depressed by the ankles and pulls them under for no discernible reason when least expected. I’m talking “bad mood” within the range that everyone experiences as a part of being human.

Cranky. Hangry. On edge. That kind of bad mood. The “I’m sorry, we should postpone our plans because I’m in a vile mood and I know I’ll be terrible company and I don’t want to ruin your day” bad mood. (Fortunately, this rarely happens. But it’s happened.)

When it comes to mental wellness, I focus so primarily on surviving the occasional plunge that I forget to tend to my garden-variety funks. It’s like I expend so much energy chopping down diseased trees, I forget to pull the weeds.

While I often feel like I can’t change my mood when I please, I realize that I only perceive this ineptitude when I ponder the bad mood while I’m in it, maybe because I’m trying to think my way out of it. I’m trying to breathe through it, as we’re advised to do. I know that there’s yoga and aromatherapy and meditation and music and a plethora of other highly suggested tools and tactics that work for many of us. None of that stuff actually works for me, but I can think of a few things that actually do. A few of these wondrously effective anti-bad-mood actions I take with no thought at all:

Drop and do 20 (push-ups).

Clean my office.

Vent my frustrations to my emotional-support cat and my ten emotional-support plants.

Snuggle said emotional-support cat, because her happiness creates a (purring) balm for my mood.

Go outside to see if I can find our tortoise, because one look at his little face skyrockets my mood and makes me smile like nothing else.

Eat some fresh fruit.

 

Nenette napping this afternoon – happy girl

 

Everyone’s different. Also – side-note – we need our ups and downs, right? If there was a panacea for rotten moods, everyone would be happy all the time, and the world would be a stagnant and less-interesting place. Bad moods and anger go together, anger spurs action, which, if channeled positively, can change the world in much-needed ways, blah blah blah (this would be a blathering I’d save for its own post).

Fortunately, I’m not a moody person, in general; my normal, everyday ups and downs are pretty low-key. Admittedly, psych meds also help, no doubt! They help to keep me out of the abyss. I’m happy to deal with the mere pulling of weeds.

 

Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?