Self-Care| Letting Go of Promises & Finding Peace of Mind

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Untitled. D. Blake, 2017

It’s a grey day, I’m at Starbucks, eating a strawberry cheesecake scone and drinking iced tea, and I feel a little tired. I started my morning by taking a long walk, looking at flowers, and listening to The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker. Yesterday, I finished Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. On a daily basis, I consume books, articles and videos on childhood and adult trauma, self-care, fibromyalgia, personality disorders, and how to keep it together when you’re broken and involved. It’s a healthy diet of I’m ready to change.

This year marks a decade since I received my diagnosis of fibromyalgia. However, it’s been a life marked by a host of diagnoses: depression, SAD, OCD, PCOS, IBS, Raynaud’s syndrome, overweight, underweight, high blood pressure, etc.; and I was a walking pharmacy–there always seemed to be some new and improved medication to fix whatever was broken inside me.

All the while, I was doing the arduous work of unpacking my childhood, being therapized and therapizing myself, while codependently trying to fix everyone else’s problems, whether they wanted me to or not. I was without clear boundaries in my personal life, struggling with a compulsion to solve sadness, my own and others.

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Places to go. D. Blake, 2017.

Letting Go of Promises

You see, I made two promises a long time ago–not to myself, but to my family. I can’t recall my exact age, but I remember the moment with clarity. An incredible argument took place between one of my older siblings and my parents. Without going into the details, that moment represented the totality of my family’s dynamics: unbounded dysfunction.

Nothing was ever a discussion, always a war zone…and the children were used as  landmines against each other and seen as acceptable collateral damage. I made a promise aloud to my mother on that day. I told her that I would 1) become a therapist and 2) fix my family.

I had forgotten about those promises for two decades. Unearthing them again in a therapy session, back in December 2014, shook my world. I had to face the fact that I had been unconsciously living a life based on these promises…

In 2006, I became an art therapist and mental health counselor. I spent years, prior to and thereafter, confronting my parents on their unacceptable behaviors towards my siblings and me. I tried to create dialogue. I tried to be a bridge. I tried…until I realized, in 2016, that I couldn’t do that anymore.

I can’t keep these promises that my younger self made. I can’t undo what was done to my siblings and me. I can’t fix my parents, nor do I wish to anymore.

Still, I was raised to cater to others. I was raised to take the blame for others. I was raised to disregard myself and defer to others. It’s no simple task living within and for myself.

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Self-portrait, D. Blake, 2017

Peace of Mind

So, I’ve been reading, watching, confronting and comforting myself. I take daily walks, I remind myself that change is a moment by moment act of meeting yourself wherever you are. I can’t walk back my childhood nor the harrowing moments of my adulthood. However, I can walk toward the type of future I would like to have and the future self I would like to be.

In the past, fixating on the emotions of others and even myself, and trying to control the outcome of everything was what brought me a sense of fragile peace–as long as I knew what someone was going to do or what was going to happen next, then everything was okay.

Now, it’s the simple things that give me peace of mind: flowers, stones, water, changes in the weather, the sound of laughter, singing, and dancing–flowing with what is rather than what I would like to be.

Change seems to happen with the smallest and simplest of actions…at least, this is what trying to live within myself has been showing me lately.  If you’re on a similar journey, then I hope it’s the same for you.

Until Next Time,
D

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Fibromyalgia & Being a Social Pariah: Reinventing Yourself After Losing Everything (Part 1)

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Image linked from WordPress.com gallery.

There is nothing more sobering than experiencing significant loss, especially when that loss hits very close to home.  At those times, knowing what to do can be challenging, and finding support may prove difficult.  These are the moments that can have the greatest impact on how you define yourself and your relationships with those around you and the world as a whole.  More importantly, significant loss forces you to realize that you may be, after all, alone in this world.

There are some who will disagree with the following statement: when you experience significant loss, the likelihood of becoming a social pariah increases dramatically.  You don’t have to look very far to see the truth of it. Just look at the rise and fall of celebrities.

The fact is that when you have everything or are seemingly rising to the top of the social strata, you will find yourself surrounded by more people, for good or ill. Conversely, when you lose everything or are seemingly hitting rock bottom, there will be fewer people remaining by your side. It’s a harsh reality, but a truth that each person going through or who has been through significant loss has to face: you might just be very much on your own.

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I decided to write about this because of my observations and personal experiences since becoming ill with fibromyalgia.  As I have written many times, having fibromyalgia means experiencing significant loss, especially of self. However, you gain a great deal alongside that loss. You find out, for example, who your true supports are and what really matters to you in life.

Fibromyalgia forces a mental housecleaning (if you allow it) and life cleaning. It forces you to question the reality that you have chosen to live and then asks you to prove the worth of that reality, i.e. is your reality one that is worth enough for you to fight for it?

While you attempt to answer that question, those around you will have to answer this one: is this person worthwhile to keep in my life? Of course, the question may not be so direct in nature, but that is what it comes down to: your worth = potential benefit in their lives. If you worth is diminished, so is the benefit that they experience.

Whether or not anyone wants to agree, the fact is that, for some people, relationships are based on benefits. There are relatively few relationships that I have observed that function solely on selflessness.  Some people care as long as there is something to benefit from giving that care.  However they define benefit doesn’t matter.  The key thing is whether or not they are still capable of receiving that benefit if they maintain a relationship with you.

I have found that having fibromyalgia or any chronic illness can make you become completely self-focused because you are having to, maybe for the first time, expend a lot of mental energy on understanding how to improve your health and how to survive on a daily basis. During that period, your ability to care for your relationships, work, and other commitments declines.  However long you spend during that period of uncertainty has a direct impact on your relationships, work and other commitments.  Given the recurrent and potentially severe nature of fibromyalgia symptoms, you may will find yourself repeatedly going through this experience.

After some time, you may find yourself friendless, jobless and uncertain of what to do next. Perhaps you are already at that point.

Keep faith and do not despair.

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There is a flip side to losing everything, to hitting rock bottom, and to being utterly uncertain. Beyond choosing to remain where you are, there is the other option: gaining everything, reaching for the sky, and becoming driven. 

All it takes is deciding to see yourself in a new person.

Too often we get bogged down in the identity that we have created or accepted for ourselves.  To truly move forward after losing everything means accepting that you are no longer who you used to be.  It means shedding your old identity.

It doesn’t matter what age you are when fibromyalgia entered your life, you can still reinvent yourself. In fact, I think the older you are, the more important it is to choose to reinvent yourself. No matter how difficult it may seem.

Reinventing yourself is what I call a process-decision. It’s an ongoing experience of deciding and allowing for various internal and external processes to occur to manifest change.  It begins with simply stating to yourself that you are have already changed and are constantly changing.

Of course, there are many practical steps that you can take to begin that process now.

Look out for Part 2

Until then,

D.

Check out my latest Vlog post on dealing with depression and anxiety. 

 

 

 

Three Days Grace + One Song = Instant Catharsis?

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Three Days Grace

Can someone explain to me how one song can undo a good decade of indifference to the rock scene?? Yes, I’m really going to talk about music in this post.  Sort of.

First, let me be quite clear: I’ve been listening to this one song on repeat for a good 24 hours. Yes, I’ve got it bad for a song, bad enough to write this post, and equally bad enough that I’ve even been revisiting my adolescent self with new eyes, seeing her with more compassion, and relating to her distress and internalized rage.

It’s music therapy…rock-style.

To say that these past 14 months have been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement:  I’ve moved approximately 6 times, graduated from university, resigned from a job, had family emergencies on an international level, gained twenty pounds, watched my health deteriorate further, and entered into a pretty severe depression (that I’m only coming to fully acknowledge now).

It’s been a long and ridiculously heavy period.

My life’s been the kind of heaviness that is embodied in the driving guitar riffs and heavy drumbeats of the song “I Am Machine” by Canadian rock band Three Days Grace, from their fifth album Human that was apparently released in March 2015 (the song was released in late 2014).  I had heard the song play on the radio station WJRR a few times over the past month and had abstractly connected with the sound of it.  Yesterday, however, was the first time I really listened to the lyrics.

And, oh boy, the lyrics…

In the first verse, lead singer Matt Walst (who also fronts the Canadian rock band My Darkest Days) sings:

Here’s to being human
All the pain and suffering
There’s beauty in the bleeding
At least you feel something

I wish I knew what it was like
To care enough to carry on
I wish I knew what it was like
To find a place where I belong, but…

Listening to and reading these lyrics hit me hard, but I didn’t quite understand why until I listened to the chorus, in which he sings:

I am machine
I never sleep
I keep my eyes wide open
I am machine
A part of me
Wishes I could just feel something

I am machine
I never sleep
Until I fix what’s broken
I am machine
A part of me
Wishes I could just feel something

I shan’t post the remaining lyrics. You can find them on Google Play. I think the first verse and chorus are satisfactory for illustrating what opened my eyes to a truth that I’ve been ignoring for some time:

I am machine…

I hadn’t realized that I had stuffed down and shutdown whatever emotions I felt threatened the little stability I was managing to maintain.  Of course, the emotions have become somaticized: weighing down my body, and taking away even what little precious sleep I used to manage to get.  I think the lyrics “I never sleep, I keep my eyes wide open” and “I never sleep until I fix what’s broken” sum up the situation quite clearly.

Yes, some part of me broke last year to the point where it has become quite numb, cold to the outside world, empty and devoid of life. It’s the part of me that is telling me quite clearly that it “wishes I could just feel something.”

You see, at some point, the things I had been experiencing were filled with too much “pain and suffering”–truly much more than I could handle–and as a result I shutdown through repression and intellectualization.  They are two self-defense mechanisms (among others) I know well and have employed since childhood. One would think given my education and profession that I would have found better methods of coping–and I do have better methods, and I did employ those first. However, it’s when we run of the best tricks in our bag that we engage our last resort: our oldest tricks, the maladaptive ones, that ensured self-preservation in the face of our gravest moments in childhood while sabotaging our adult selves.

Back to the song.

The second half of the first verse expresses the thoughts (however dark) that have gone through my mind throughout this period: “I wish I knew what it was like to care enough to carry on” and “I wish I knew what it was like to find a place where I belong.” Quite dark stuff, right?

I felt myself entering into a void, trapped between nothingness and more nothingness, emptied of all feelings, thoughts, and sense of purpose.  Yes, it was that harsh. It still is.

Of course, now that I realize where I have been and am, I can do something about it. I can mourn my losses: friends, home and purpose I found living in Rome. It’s the place where I learned to smile, learned to hug, learned that I had people who would be there to support me whenever I felt broken and in tears. I guess, you could say that I had found and felt my most “human” self there.

It’s a sad revelation, but a necessary one. Still, enough words for one post .:)

If you like rock, then watch the official video for “I Am Machine” below.

Until Next Time,

D.

Support the band, buy the album! 

Fibromyalgia & Maintaining Hope

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Maintaining hope is a matter of discipline.  Hope isn’t not magically bestowed upon you. It’s not something packaged in the form of the latest prescription your doctor wants you to try.  You can’t purchase it from your neighbourhood 24-7 pharmacy. You learned it from someone somewhere at some point in your life, oftentimes in childhood.  Hope is a skill.  As such, the old adage of  use it or lose it applies to it as well.  This is especially true if you have a chronic illness.

Having a chronic illness isn’t the end of the world, although it may feel like it.  To be blunt, it sucks to have a chronic illness.  However, in the difficulties that having any illness can bring, there is wisdom and compassion to be gained.  Still, being constantly ill or never knowing when next illness will strike can create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, which can lead to or may signal depression.    In fact, despite being a mental health counselor and expressive therapist, I have felt hopeless and helpless at various points in my illness–a good portion of it being related to having to redefine my self-concept, rather than the illness itself.

I found that the more I refused to let go of what/who I was, the more frustrated and sad I became.  However, each time I conceded to a limitation and took steps to adjust to it, I felt freer and more hopeful.  As I have written many times, chronic illnesses take away many things from you, but they also give something to you.  Whether or not you choose to understand that there is a gift (or gifts) is up to you.

Chronic illnesses, as much as they can create havoc in your life, they also can make things really simple, especially decisions. Still, you have to see through the chaos of your symptoms (physical and mental) to the clarity of your will.  To help myself see beyond the difficulty of the any moment related to my fibromyalgia, I ask myself the following question:

Will I allow my illness to devour me?  

The answer is always no. I refuse to be held hostage to my illness.  Like all other things about myself that I cannot change, I have accepted that my illness is a part of me.  I don’t need to focus on changing it.  I need to focus on living with it, learning from it, and moving beyond it.  This is how I maintain a hopeful attitude about my life and my illness.

I no longer see my illness as something I need to or can fix.  If the experts come up with something definitive in the future that will alleviate me of my illness, then great.  Otherwise, I choose to focus on making peace with having fibromyalgia, rather than fighting it.  In those moments when I am feeling my worst, I choose to focus on how my illness is helping me, rather than how it may be hindering me. 

My hope is grounded in the belief that I can live successfully with fibromyalgia, regardless of what it takes away…because I believe it always gives me something in return.  Because of this belief, I also know that I can and will always find a way to help myself, even if the way is not immediately shown to me. I suppose what I’ve learned is that

Hope is about riding the waves of uncertainty…with a keen sense of direction. 😉

  D.

Check out this post by a fellow  Wordpress blogger: When Chronic Illness Causes Depression

In the absence of words…

I’ve wondered how best to begin writing my blog once again.  Indeed, perhaps I have been suffering a harsh bout of writer’s block and apathy.  Okay, I concede that writer’s block is not a fairly accurate description of what has (or has not) been happening as I have actually written a fair amount since my last posting… just not here. 😉 

The apathy, however…

It remains unknown to me:  the first moment that my eyes closed to the world, my ears failed to hear spoken words, my body refused to sense external and internal emotionality…  My memory brings me back only to the moment of darkness, a darkness that surrounded my entire being, shutting down access to everything and everyone. 

This was not despair.  This was not anhedonia.  This was (and still is) apathy.   Perhaps a better word to choose would be stoicism in its most holistic meaning.

I imagine reading such words might prove shocking for some who know me.  Truly, my realization of what has been happening was comparative to being doused by a bucket of ice water.

To see not in the extremes of good or bad, to be not in the extremes of glad or sad, to wake each day without hope or despair, to greet each person as neither friend nor foe… this is the result of my process for the last two months or so.  A prevailing sense of calm has descended upon me.  It reminds me of the still moments in heat of summer when we become too tired to think or to move, or even before and after the fall of heavy snow or rain when the world is overcome by the awe of nature.  For a brief moment, we recognize that we must hide or perhaps we have been hiding in order to protect.

It is fair to say that I have been weathering a storm of loss, betrayal, grief, anxiety, and anger for over a year now.  It is equally fair to say that I have been showered with love, friendship, family-connection, opportunities, and creativity.  Still, what is to come now?  What can I make of this moment in my life now that the pendulum of life has stopped swinging, now that it seems to be decidedly in the middle?

I have decided to be content with my apathy.  After all, I have made it through…

Now, it is time to begin a new story (literally and figuratively).

Until next time,

D.

P. S.  I promise to be less disjointed in my next posting. 🙂  Thanks also to everyone who stopped by! Truly, it means a lot to me.