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.

 

 

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“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.

 

 

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?

 

Best break for my brain: working out. (“My Morning Routine” – !)

Every once in a while, I go to My Morning Routine to peruse the site and gain some life inspiration. I went there today, and it actually inspired this blog post. I know I’ve shared a daily routine (or two) here before, but I don’t think I’ve filled in a morning routine questionnaire from this site. These questions are pretty much the same across the interviewees, but I’ll see different, additional questions thrown in here and there. I included as many of them as I could find in the few interviews that I read today.

 

1). What is your morning routine?

These days, I wake up anywhere from 5:00 to 6:30am, though most often at 5:30am. I take my morning meds/supplements, pour some coffee, open my laptop, and get into my writing.

 

2). How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I started dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing sometime in the last 12 months. The rest of my routine hasn’t varied in years.

 

3). How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

My “dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing” discipline means focusing on my project before filling my mind with anything else of substance. Before, I would multi-task my brain between writing, email, social media, news, and so on. I’ll still scroll through instagram and twitter on my phone while drinking my first cup of coffee, though. I don’t click to read articles on twitter… early in the morning, I’m only there to check for major news headlines and traffic/weather alerts.

 

4). What time do you go to sleep?

Between 11:00 and midnight, usually.

 

5). Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

No.

 

6). Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I do use an alarm, though my internal clock (aka my bladder) will sometimes wake me up before it goes off. I never use a snooze button.

 

7). How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

If I’m working out that morning, I’ll have breakfast between two and three hours after I wake up. If it’s not a gym morning, I’ll eat four to five hours after waking up. I have the same breakfast every day. Since a month or two ago, it’s been a bowl of plain organic oatmeal (made with water) with light agave syrup and cinnamon. I also have a handful of raw mixed nuts.

 

8). Do you have a morning workout routine?

My morning gym routine is Les Mills Body Pump at the gym. I go three mornings a week.

 

9). Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

Working out is my meditation. The 50 or so minutes of continuous physical activity provide the best break for my brain. For the duration of the class, there are no thoughts in my head. There’s music and there’s someone telling me what to do, and I listen and I do it and that’s it. There’s no room for anything else. I try to stay in the workout, where there’s no thinking involved! If distractions enter my mind, I force them out. This is key to any sort of meditation practice.

 

10). Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I’m bad at checking email. Let’s just leave it at that.

 

11). Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

Other than taking my anti-anxiety med and putting on my Fitbit to track the quality and duration of my sleep, no.

 

12). How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

As I’d mentioned above, I usually check instagram and twitter while drinking my first cup of coffee. That’s about 30 minutes after I wake up.

 

13). What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Cleaning Nenette’s litter box and doing my skin-care routine. I water my plants in the morning once a week.

 

14). What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water, immediately.

 

15). How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

He usually wakes up at the same time as I do, and we have coffee together in the living room. He makes the bed as a part of his getting ready for work routine, and I make his lunch while he’s doing that. We’re a good team.

 

16). Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

Saturday is the day I’ll wake up at 6:30am, as I usually don’t write before going to the gym that morning. Sundays, I’ll try to sleep in until 7:00-7:30am. I write at different times over the weekend. The routine relaxes.

 

17). On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

No. If I’m not in my home, I don’t write first thing in the morning.

 

18). What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

If I fail to follow my routine, there’s a good reason for it, so it doesn’t impact the rest of my day. Whatever changes occur, my daily task list is always there to guide me through. The important thing is that by the end of the day, I’ve checked off as much of that list as possible.

 

Post-gym, seventh of June, two thousand eighteen.

 

Sorry this pic is so dark! Bad lighting and brownish walls aren’t the best for selfies, or anything else, for that matter.

 

The End.

 

May Favorites!

I’m not sure how to sum up the month of May. Mental health real talk: May was the white serial killer van creeping slowly down the street in front of your office window; you’re mesmerized by a combination of horror and morbid fascination as you wonder when it’s going to stop, and what you’ll see when it does. The van doesn’t stop, though. It keeps going, slowly, and when it disappears from view, you’re relieved, but you wish you’d seen more. Then June rolls around in the form of another serial killer van, and now you’re wondering whether you should ask for an adjustment to your depression medication cocktail.

In other words, ugh. This is what “Little Things” are for, right? Here are some of the Little Things that I enjoyed in May:

 

1). Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife (Netflix)

 

 

Some hilarity was in order. We got it by watching this. BEWARE if you have delicate sensibilities. Ali does not hold back!

 

2). A Quiet Place (film)

 

 

We finally made it out to a movie, and we picked a good one. It’s immensely gratifying when a horror film turns out to be good and not cheesy at all, like this one, though I love cheesy horror flicks, too.

 

3). The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, S2)

 

 

I probably noted the first time around that the phenomenal The Handmaid’s Tale is visually stunning, and that you could hit “pause” anywhere and it’s like you’re looking at a Vermeer painting. Season 2 follows suit.

 

4). Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (Netflix)

 

 

Netflix’ real-life crime drama docuseries game is strong.

 

5). Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)

 

 

Cobra Kai is a current day “where are they now” blast that puts you back in the 80’s because the main character is stuck there.

 

6). The Americans (FX) Series Finale (S6)

 

 

The Americans series finale couldn’t have been better, in our opinion. We’re sad that it’s over, but it had to end at some point, I suppose.

 

 

Philip and Elizabeth in the final scene of the very last episode of The Americans.

 

7). Sumo/Natsu Basho (May 2018 Grand Sumo Tournament) and Tochinoshin’s promotion to Ozeki.

 

Tochinoshin (actual name: Levan Gorgadze)

 

We’re big Tochinoshin fans, as you may recall if you’ve been here for a while, so we were thrilled to witness Tochinoshin’s historic promotion to Ozeki (Sumo’s 2nd-highest rank) at the end of his spectacular May tournament.

 

 

The wonderful tribute video above doesn’t include Tochinoshin’s most notable victory of the May Basho (for reasons of respect, I would guess), so I’m posting another video showing that match. This is his win over the formidable Yokozuna Hakuho. Yokozuna is Sumo’s highest rank. A Yokozuna is basically like a god in Japan.

 

 

8). Cherry season.

Cherry season is when Dad drives 1.5 hours to the cherry orchards in Brentwood (CA) and picks pounds and pounds of cherries and sends a big box of them to me, and then I know that we’re on the verge of summer, because I can taste it. Cherries are my favorite fruit. Callaghan doesn’t like them, so these were all for me.

 

Rainier cherries and another type whose name I can’t remember. The deep red-black Bing cherries come later in the season.

 

9). Popcorn with nuts.

 

popcorn and nuts

 

I started dumping roasted, salted mixed nuts on top of my popcorn, and it’s so very satisfying.

 

Alas, I could only come up with nine Things this time. They were outstanding. They were more than enough.

On minimizing “decision-fatigue.” (Mental wellness post!)

One day, in the third week of April 2017, I figured out what I’d wear to the gym each workout day of the following week. I wrote it all down. It was life-changing. I’ve since kept up the practice: once a week, I plan and list my gym outfits in a notebook (to keep track), gather the clothing, put them together in neat little bundles, and place them in the drawer in the order of the workouts. This completely eliminates having to think about what to wear to the gym as I’m getting ready to go.

This might make it sound like I have gym-clothing fashion concerns, but I do not. What I have is limited time and a limited mental/creative energy capacity each day.

No matter how little I care about my gym attire, I still have to decide what to put on. It’s a small, inconsequential decision, but it’s still a decision. Toward the end of the day, small and inconsequential decisions have added up, and then I start to make poor decisions, or I struggle to make decisions at all anymore. It could be that when it’s late-afternoon and I find myself stressed and unable to pinpoint a cause, I’m actually looking at decision-fatigue.

Why do couples sometimes bicker (stereotypically) over what to have for dinner? Maybe because they’re both at the end of a long day of making hundreds of little decisions, and they’re decision-exhausted and hangry. Decision-fatigue is a documented phenomenon; I’ve found web pages devoted to it.

As I said, my habit of putting gym clothes together a week in advance has been life-changing. It helps immensely that getting dressed for the gym involves only opening a drawer and pulling out the bundle on top. Zero decisions, minimal time. Even if I know what I’m going to wear, I’d still have to search for the pieces (t-shirts and pants – told you I didn’t care about gym fashion!) if they weren’t already bundled together.

 

Minimizing decision-fatigue: gym outfit prep, week-in-advance

 

This week-in-advance planning and prep – as opposed to multiple night-befores – allows me to devote my mental/creative energy and time to writing. Early mornings are especially precious to me; my primary focus each day starts with my “morning pages,” which consist of whatever part of my project I have in front of me. (Usually, it’s a single chapter.)

Gym-clothing planning is just an example. I’ve made it a point to try to be aware of other little decisions that feed on my energy levels throughout the day, and to get ahead of these decisions by strategizing accordingly. Because of my new awareness, I’ve returned to the habit of making daily lists of things to do. I might know what I have to do, but having the list in front of me saves me time and mental energy.

This leads me to a tangent: I don’t consider decisions to be distractions. There’s always a time and reason for distractions. Callaghan’s the same way! Perhaps we who work in creative realms need distractions because we’re easily over-saturated with our creations. Distractions carry me into a different head-space… they wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When the text is no longer at the forefront of my mind, I can start the next writing session and see what I couldn’t see before.

With that, I’m going to slam the door shut on this topic, because I can sense other tangents rising up!

Happy Friday Eve, everyone.

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”