Is it Monday yet? TGIM! (Writing-Fitness balance: on changing routines.)

This week, I let go of my Monday evening workout. It was hard. I’d been doing that class for over three years… Monday/Wednesday kickboxing, non-negotiable.

You know how I feel about routines, and you know how I feel about kickboxing. This decision was not easy.

But it was a long time coming. I looked at my 2016 planner and saw that I’d been thinking about it since early November… because I’d just tried BodyPump, which is weight-training, which I’d spent a year trying and failing to do on my own. I finally realized that nothing was stopping me from going to a twice-weekly morning Pump class. It was life-changing. It got me thinking about re-vamping my entire workout schedule.

I did it slowly, starting with switching out Saturday morning kickboxing for Saturday morning Pump. I wanted three strength-training workouts per week, rather than two.

Then I had a few Monday evenings off when the Monday kickboxing class was between instructors, and I realized what Monday really is, now: it’s my favorite day of the week. My best workday. The ideal day to stay home all day and get shit done.

Monday has become my “third weekend-day,” my working-weekend day, my relaxed yet productive transition into the week. It’s my bubble of creative energy day. It’s my fresh-start day. I wake up filled with anticipation and ready to get ALL the ideas down. I’m writing before I even get out of bed on Monday mornings. I can multi-task all day on Mondays, no problem.

I realized that it’s TGIM around here, not TGIF. I had to make changes accordingly!

Easier said than done.

Since I’m slow to see things that are right before my eyes, I first had to have this argument with myself. (We all do this, right? Argue with ourselves, weigh pros and cons, etc.?)

Here’s how my argument went:

  • Monday is my best workday now.
  • And?
  • Leaving the house on Monday interrupts my best workday.
  • Why not just stay home on Mondays?
  • Because it’s Monday. I have to go to the gym.
  • Why?
  • Because it’s Monday.
  • Really.
  • I always go to the gym on Monday.
  • Okay, but why?
  • It’s what I do! Kickboxing on Mondays and Wednesdays!! I love it!!!
  • That’s not a real reason.
  • Because… I need at least two cardio workouts per week.
  • Can you find an alternate day for the Monday cardio?
  • Well, yes. Fridays or Sundays would work.
  • Then do it.

End of argument. Why had I been reluctant – even afraid – to give up Monday evening workouts? Because changing a routine is scary when your mental health depends on the stability routines provide. But I was able to work through it.

I’ve had my boxing gloves hanging up in my office, and now that’s metaphorical as well as practical. I hung up my Monday night gloves for writing.

 

Writing-training balance: boxing gloves hanging in my office (along with my hats and kukui nut lei)

 

The process of making this decision turned out to be a good exercise (pun not intended), so I thought I’d share it with you who may also have a hard time making changes to your routines.

I followed this thought-path:

  • Recognize (when something isn’t working anymore.)
  • Think (of how to fix it.)
  • Detach (to make it easier.)
  • Consider solutions/alternatives.
  • Wait for the immediate “obstacles” to come to mind, because they will… then
  • think beyond them.
  • Think creatively.
  • Do this by asking yourself questions and answering honestly.

Some people would call this “Follow your heart.” Others would call it “Adjust your thinking.” I call it “Wake up and realize that you’re the only one stopping yourself from making changes in order to do what you need to do… you can do it.”

Making changes isn’t easy for we who need routine in order to keep ourselves stable; routine is necessary, but it can also be an impediment. It makes it hard to see when change is needed.

Now I just need to discipline myself to get my ass to the gym to do cardio on my own. That shouldn’t be difficult.

 

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On phobias, weaknesses, and phobia-shaming.

A largish roach appeared in my spot in BodyPump at the end of class on Saturday morning. One minute, I’m lying on the floor working my abs, the next minute a roach appears where my head just was. Obviously I’m still alive, so it was of no consequence. I say that because I’m phobic about roaches, as many of you know.  No other critters get to me – just roaches.

When I described the incident and ensuing antics to Callaghan, he was mildly surprised to hear of my uninhibited reaction in front of others. I think he was envisioning me running around flapping my arms and screaming incessantly, which I didn’t do and never do, in fact. I’m more of the get-away-and-stand-paralyzed-while-trying-not-to-hyperventilate sort. But as he later clarified, he’d responded as a product of a culture that’s widely reluctant to acknowledge or address topics such as phobias, therapists… any kind of mental health-related issue.

Interestingly, his initial surprise met with my surprise; the idea of even a suggestion that I would want to hide my phobia gave me pause. It got me thinking.

I think it’s normal to be hesitant in admitting that we’re afraid, because fear is considered to be a weakness.

But none of us are without a weakness or two, and having a weakness doesn’t mean that we’re weak. It may make us vulnerable, but being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak, either. While a rule such as “never let your enemies know your weaknesses” is important to remember when we’re sitting in a bar (lest a foreign spy sidle up in the guise of an admirer when they’re actually after information), forthrightness about our state of mind can’t hurt.

I have two phobias, and I talk about them readily: roach phobia and claustrophobia. I know that many of you can relate, so I share my adventures in phobia encounters and efforts. The incidents strike me as funny after the fact, so I’m glad to share when I can laugh at myself!

The opposite of “courageous” is “fearful,” which I know doesn’t characterize me or others who have phobias. I don’t feel the need to demonstrate this. There’s no reason to be ashamed of our phobias, especially since we know that when it comes to life or death, we’re capable of confronting and conquering the ogres, whatever they may be.

 

Momotaro conquering the ogres. Japanese folklore illustration by George Suyeoka (from “Momotaro: Peach Boy,” Island Heritage Limited, 1972)

 

No one in the vicinity of Saturday’s roach incident phobia-shamed me, by the way. No one ever has. If you’re ever phobia-shamed, know that the person simply doesn’t understand that a phobia is a specific, irrational fear. And if they decide that you’re a generally fearful person because of it? Consider that to be a benefit to you. The element of surprise is, after all, a formidable weapon for any warrior.

How I manage my mental illness.

I’ve touched on some of this in various posts in the past, but I’ve been asked to share an actual list of tactics I use to maintain my mental health.

First of all, I accept that PTSD and clinical depression are a part of who I am. Mental illness and the management of it are “my normal,” and this acceptance helps a lot.

It also helps to accept the fact that just as there are great days, there are horrible days, and days ranging between the two. Sometimes, all the meds and talk therapy and things on the list below just aren’t enough. When this happens, I try to recognize that “this, too, shall pass,” keeping it all in perspective. (I know that this is so much easier said than done. I can say it easily now, when I’m not at the bottom of the abyss of hopelessness and despair. All we can do is try.)

That being said, here’s my list… things I do to manage my mental illness:

1). I avoid alcohol (with few exceptions).

Alcohol is a depressant. It also counters or otherwise negatively interacts with medications taken for mental illness. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis is never advisable for the mentally ill.

2). I take medication and talk to my therapist on a regular basis.

Meds and talk therapy are basic, first-line tactics of controlling mental illness. It’s critically important to adhere to such a routine and to have my external resources at hand. I regularly visit my doctor at the V.A. hospital, and I know that I always have access to emergency help at a national veterans’ crisis line.

3). I work out and try to eat well (within reason, making sure to maintain a healthy balance).

Exercise heightens our mood by way of its effect on our brain chemistry. It leads to improved physical fitness, which improves our physical health. (For this reason, more and more companies are including gym membership coverage fees in their employees’ benefits packages.) Improved physical health reduces stress and makes us feel more energetic and better about ourselves, in general. Choosing healthier food options most of the time comprises the other half of this picture.

4). I have routines, and I stick to them.

Routines are underestimated and even sneered upon. We like to say that spontaneity is critical to quality of life, and there is certainly something to that, but the fact is that routine can provide us with mental health benefits, too. Routines are valuable. They can be soothing when everything else is chaos. Routines can give us a sense of control and accomplishment.

5). I eliminate toxic factors in my life (to the best of my ability).

The word “toxic” is overused in our current vocabulary (instigated, I suspect, by self-help gurus, but that’s beside the point) – and yet, it captures this point well. In a nutshell, a toxic factor is that which makes us feel badly about ourselves. It’s a negative and destructive force and presence in our lives.

Toxic factors can include situations, places, and/or people and relationships. It’s not always possible to eliminate such factors; when we can’t, we can seek out ways to lessen their negative impact. I recently liberated myself from an utterly demoralizing situation, and that leap hugely improved my mental health and quality of life.

6). I engage my creative energy to the fullest extent possible.

If you have creative juices, let them flow. If you have hobbies, indulge in them. If you don’t have a hobby, get one. Losing ourselves in the physical act of doing something we enjoy goes beyond mere escapism. It often involves honing talents with which we’ve been blessed. The act of doing something physical that requires the creative part of our brains is beneficial to our mental health. There’s a reason why occupational therapy is a part of an in-patient mental illness patient’s prescribed agenda.

7). I have cats.

Connecting with animals on an emotional level and caring for them has proven to be a powerful stress reducer, improving our mental and physical health. Our relationships with our pets can actually extend our lives, improve the quality of our lives, and even save our lives. I can’t think of anything that can compare to cultivating the love and trust of an animal. (I say “animal,” but this applies to birds and fish, too.)

 

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

 

8). I actively express my compassion for others in one way or another, however small.

Example: I don’t have time to physically go and volunteer at homeless shelters, so I choose to do my part by providing with water. I make sure to have one or two small bottles of cold water with me when I leave the house, especially in the hot months.

We buy generic water in bulk, keep the bottles in the refrigerator, and give them to the homeless when we see them on the street or at a red light. (Admittedly, I try to identify those homeless who are vets, though I’ll give water to any homeless person, of course.) Every time, without fail, the person takes the bottle of cold water with visible – sometimes overwhelming – gratitude and joy, which they express in such an open and heartfelt manner that I’m instantly put in empathetic touch with their plight. Water is never an unwelcome thing. The person usually opens it and chugs it immediately.

Kindness is invaluable for the human spirit.

Giving water to drink means and accomplishes much more than giving change or a dollar. Giving water with a smile is an act that says, “I recognize that you’re a human being and deserving of this basic, life-saving thing. Someone cares about you and your well-being.” I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how showing compassion to the needy can be anything but beneficial to all involved.

9). I set goals for myself and plan things to anticipate.

I believe I devoted an entire blog post to this. Having agenda items to look forward to is a pleasurable thing. It can also, in the worst of times, give us a reason to keep on keeping on.

10). I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (Still trying. Still mostly failing. But still trying).

This can’t be stressed enough: Adequate sleep and quality sleep are important for optimal physical and mental health and well-being.

11). I count my blessings and nurture my relationships with loved ones.

One word: Gratitude.

Being grateful for what we have – and who we have – is an incredibly powerful reminder that things could always be worse.

 

Keeping it real.

Keeping it real.

 

That sums it up: In addition to acceptance, meds, and professional talk therapy, I manage my mental illness by working on physical health, stress reduction, and gratitude. I try.