Resolving Not To Resolve

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Yesterday I teased this post about New Year’s resolutions, why I don’t make them, and what I do instead. So without preamble, let’s get into the meat of what a resolution is.

Merriam-Webster defines a “resolution” as “the act or process of making a definite and serious decision to do something.” With the start of a new year, the attractiveness of making a new start on something is almost palpable. I think everyone wants to improve themselves, and the changing of the calendar is certainly a logical time to kick off the new you. By this definition, I have no problem with resolutions at New Year’s.

However, many people write their resolutions in absolutes. “I will not smoke this year.” “I will go to the gym three times a week.” “I will avoid soda.” And again, this falls into the definite and serious decision part of the definition. But this is where things often hit a snag.

We so often write our resolutions in such a way as to invite failure, and when we do inevitably reach for that cigarette or skip the gym or instinctively ask for a Coke in the drive-thru, we make the definite and serious decision that we have broken our resolution and thus failed in our New Year’s objective. And having made the decision that we’ve already screwed up, we just throw our hands in the air and

Now, to be fair, not everyone does this. A lot of people realize the fallacy of creating impossible resolutions and word theirs more appropriately. “I will smoke less.” “I will go to the gym more often.” “I will cut back on the amount of soda that I drink.” And they establish a metric that is measurable and yet achievable throughout the year.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for a different reason, however, though when I resolve to do something, it’s more along the lines of what I’ve just described in the previous paragraph. The changing of the calendar is an arbitrary construct, as is evidenced by the fact that the original Roman calendar had ten months, not twelve; their year was 304 days long; and their months from the fifth one of the year (Quintilis) to the tenth (December) were all named for the order they came in the calendar. The predecessor to March was the start of the Roman year, and January and February didn’t come along until later. So if the date the new year starts has been fluid across history, why not make the time that I make resolutions fluid as well?

People make resolutions all the time, but it’s most popular to do this with the coming of a new year. Part of that is herd mentality; if you have other people working toward their own resolutions, you can encourage your fellows in their pursuits while they reciprocate with you. But I’ve never felt the need to stick with a New Year’s resolution – I make them all the time in a constant push to better myself.

What I do instead is make the same declaration at the beginning of every year: “May the coming year be an improvement over the previous one.” It covers all the basis in one sentence, and allows me to make changes as I feel they are necessary rather than lumping so much change at once. (That’s another quick way of failing, trying to establish several new habits simultaneously. Some people can do it; I’m not one of them. It’s why I space my resolutions through the year, so I can concentrate on making each one stick in its own time.)

I realize this post may make me come across as feeling superior to others who follow the resolution tradition, but that’s not at all the case. For a lot of people, New Year’s resolutions work, and work well. I encourage everyone to do what works best for them, and if making New Year’s resolutions is what you do, then you have my unconditional support in achieving your goals. I’m just stating why the traditional model doesn’t work for me, and what I do instead.

Regardless of what you do in 2015, may I wish for you the same thing I wish for myself.

May the coming year be an improvement over the previous one. For all of us.

New Year, New Book, New Checklist

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I realize the title of this blog post implies that I only read a book a year, and that is patently untrue. I read two.

Seriously, however, it’s time for a new book, and this time it’s “The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder” by Randi Kreger. I got this book back some years ago when my wife was first diagnosed with BPD, and I made some progress, but not a lot. It’s not to say that her diagnosis is less important than mine, but with both of us now diagnosed with BPD, it seems more relevant than before. I might find some tidbits in there that can help both of us.

Today I finally got around to flipping the page on my checklist. It’s now back to being organized chronologically instead of diabetes management versus everything else. So far, I can already see a difference in how much easier my day seems to be flowing.

Not much to report today, but I think I’m going to get back into the habit of writing daily. It doesn’t have to be profound in order to be documented.

Tomorrow I think I’ll have a longer post about New Year’s resolutions, why I don’t think they’re a good idea, and what I do instead of resolutions when the New Year comes.

A Moment of Transcendence

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Today I finished Kiera Van Gelder’s incredible memoir “The Buddha and the Borderline.” It left me feeling very much at peace with myself and the current moment, and that feeling has not abated in the half hour or so since I finished the book. I am very aware of my mindset and very much at peace with who I am and where I am in life. Everything that has transpired, every single decision, every action, every mistake and accomplishment, has brought me to this perfect moment in time, right now, where I can make clear decisions about all the moments that are yet to come. As each comes, they too will be perfect in their own time.

I don’t write often enough about the good in my day. I tried to make that a regular feature on this blog but my determination fizzled after a few attempts. Maybe I can return to that in the future.

Right now, though, I am filled with an amazing sense of tranquility and contentment. There’s no anxious looking to the future to incorporate the things I learned in the book (that will happen in a moment yet to come), there’s no judgment of the things I’ve done in the past. There is only right now, and this moment is sublime.

And I have chosen to share this moment in its transcendence and perfection with you, my readers, because I wish for you what I am feeling right now: contentment, peace, and love.

May you find the moment you read these words to be transcendent as I find the moment I write them.

Inconsistency of Mind

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Faithful readers of this blog know that I organize my life by two books, one made of checklists and vitals tracking, the other made of a rolling to-do list.

For the last week and a half, I haven’t wanted to crack open either book.

It’s not a matter of not feeling up to doing everything on the list. I’ve reduced my list down to only a handful of things that are not directly related to my diabetes management – hygiene, writing, reading, leisure time, the catch-all to-do check box. (Walking and other forms of exercise can directly affect high blood glucose, so that’s something that I consider part of my diabetes management.)

I’ve felt a growing need to mentally hide from things that I know I should be doing to help improve my health and my life. I want to bury myself into something mindless and escape, and yet I still want to get everything done.

I’m starting to feel like the books are a burden, rather than a blessing, and I don’t like feeling that way. They are the only metric that I have that I’m having a productive day, and I don’t want to lose them, yet I feel compelled to ignore them.

Is it my wonky sleep schedule that’s doing this to me? The few days that I was off my Wellbutrin while we wrestled with the pharmacy and the insurance carrier about whether the latest refill was valid? My feelings of falling off the bandwagon now that I’m needing more carbs in my diet?

I’m not sure, but I know that the inconsistent thoughts that have been plaguing my days recently are unwelcome and need to go away.

I’m not suicidal, I want to stress. I just go between spurts of productivity and lulls of apathy and boredom. When I was in the height of my checklist compliance, I felt like everything had a place in my day. Once I finished one thing, I’d switch to the next on the list, and if I didn’t feel up to it, I knew there was a set period of time that it needed to occur, so I could be leisurely for a little while, but would eventually need to take a break and get something checked off.

As I wrote the paragraph above, something dawned on me. Maybe it’s the way I organize the list now. I have my diabetes management stuff all compiled together, followed by everything else. The “everything else” parts of my day feel undisciplined, while the diabetes management is still mostly getting done.

Maybe a change is in order when I turn the page.

If this feeling lifts shortly after December 28th, when I move to the next page in the book, I’ll know what the culprit was.

RIP Joe Cocker

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Mostly this blog deals with my own personal struggles with mental illness and my quest to be a better human being. But today I have to stop for a moment and note the passing of Joe Cocker, who was arguably best known for his cover of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.” He covered the Beatles often. You might have noticed my love of the Beatles if you’re a regular reader of this blog, and Joe was my favorite artist to cover them. He was also an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right.

As I stop to remember the legacy of Joe Cocker, let me dedicate my favorite song of his to you, my readers.

A Cacophony of Time

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Tonight I start the slow process of resetting my circadian rhythm. I’ll be awake as late as I can and sleep as long as I can afterward, in the hope that once more I can get my body back to being unconscious from 11 pm to 6 am. It’s bad enough that I get headaches that will wake me up from time to time, but when I’m not even getting sleepy until 2 or 3 am, it’s a problem.

One of the things that I’m discovering comes with the borderline diagnosis is a need for external validation. If you’ve followed me for any amount of time on Facebook, you’ve seen that in action. Now, for the most part, that validation doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. I don’t need to be constantly told how awesome and loved and other superlatives I am; I just want someone to talk to and spend some time with me. It explains how I can be an introvert that seems to crave social contact in some way most of the time. I’m not extroverted, I just need that mental reassurance that I’m not alone.

Perhaps by now you’ve already put two and two together and realized why someone needing the reassurance of social contact spending half the night awake is a problem. Most people keep “usual” sleep schedules, which means the later it gets, the fewer people I have available to while the time away, the more antsy I start to feel, and the higher the chance there is for self-doubt to start creeping in. It becomes a very delicate balance between staying up late enough to find that social contact and staying up late enough for my mind to turn against itself. When that happens, it’s almost impossible for me to sleep until my body’s overwhelming fatigue overrides my mind’s downward spiral.

So I have a computer game to keep me company while I revolve my circadian rhythm back to a “daywalker” schedule, and I’ll have music going in the background to distract me as well. I should be fine. But if the need arises, I’m not against packing everything up and heading down the street to the local IHOP for coffee and the occasional conversation with the waitstaff.

In the meantime, my checklists are going to slide by the wayside, with the exception of my meds and my vitals. (At least, I’ll keep track of my vitals as best as I can, but if I don’t wake up until 2:30 in the afternoon, breakfast and lunch is kinda shot.) It’s gotten to the point that getting back on a typical sleep schedule is more important than perfection on my checklists, which is something that’s been eluding me while I get more and more off kilter with my rest. While perfection isn’t the goal, health is, and I’m finding it to be an increasingly unhealthy thing to stay up half the night. My mind suffers at the time and my body suffers the next day.

The Fine Line Between Perfection and Paranoia

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I woke up this morning at 11:00.

While I slept, I didn’t hear my vitals alarm at 6:00, got woken up to chug down my morning meds with a glass of milk at 7:00, and missed both breakfast and my 8:45 appointment with my general practitioner on a diabetes follow-up. My day did not start on a good note when I realized how much of it I’d already missed, and I was in a mind of “screw this” for the better part of the next two hours. I dove back into the computer game that’s ruled my life for the past several days and almost forgot to eat lunch.

My mind was telling me that if I can’t be perfect with my day, if perfection isn’t even an option at the point I get out of bed, why even bother with trying? That’s been a mantra of mine for the better part of my life. Once, while I was in grade school, I was taking a math test (in pencil, of course) and I made a mistake in writing down numbers. This happens all the time with people, they skip to the next number in a series or just write it down wrong. Rather than erase the mistake, my mind (emotion mind, I can tell in retrospect) told me that I’d screwed up the entire thing, and I made a grand show of ripping up the paper and flinging the pieces into the air, not caring that I was scoring a zero in a rain of tree pulp. I didn’t care that the mistake could be corrected; it was bad enough to ruin my day that I’d made it in the first place.

For years, I’ve realized that I could care less about the results, so long as the process to get there was flawless. I’ve never understood why I hold myself to that unrealistic standard, and in recent years it’s come and gone with my mental state. Is this something else that I’ll discover is part of my borderline diagnosis? There seem to be so many little aspects of major things that I’ve talked about in therapy recently and so very many others that were niggling little irritants that now seem to have a cause, and with that cause they can be dealt with.

Have my mental health professionals been so blind to this that they’ve missed it for 30 years? Or have I just not been so openly honest in therapy that it’s my fault?

As I read more into Kiera Van Gelder’s “The Buddha and the Borderline,” I see some new relevance BPD has to me. Those voices that I’ve been hearing all this time – are they really those parts of me that she speaks of coming to the Conference Table? My fast attachment to people and my chameleon-like ability to change to suit the people I want to be around – which in the past has included adopting new religious and political beliefs – has already been explained by BPD. I wonder how much else is because I’m a borderline.

I wonder how much of this can be fixed with therapy.

I’m finding myself more and more enamored with this memoir, because it feels like in so many ways it’s my own story. And as I start to come to the end of it, I’m realizing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Which brings me back to today.

At some point I realized that just because my day started out rough doesn’t mean that it has to end that way, and I started doing the things that I needed to do to turn things around. I ate lunch. I started the timer for my glucose meter. I read a chapter in “The Buddha and the Borderline.” I wrote this! I might go walking later (it’s threatening rain here, the remnants of the storm surge that drenched the West Coast a few days ago, and I really would prefer not to be walking in a downpour). I’ve even completed my to-do list and a few things that weren’t even on it. Today looks like it’s going to be a decent day after all.

Reframing was the magic tool that turned things around. I can recall my mind (wise mind this time) telling me that the day is not a loss, and that it is up to me what happens with the rest of the day. I can either sulk and feel sorry for myself that I overslept (in actuality, this is a symptom of another problem, that being that my entire circadian rhythm is out of whack, and that needs to be a priority in the coming week) or I can take the day by the horns (this is Austin, horns are a big thing here) and make the rest of it good.

And from here, I think I’m going to go make the bed, cause I’m not getting back into it until tonight.

Lights On, Blinds Open Kind of Day

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Faithful readers of this blog might have noticed my absence over the last week. That’s been partially due to recurring panic attacks over attending my intensive outpatient therapy (since put on hold until I can talk this over with my therapist) and a sudden inability to manage my blood glucose (which we think we’ve gotten worked out, but time will tell). It’s also been due to a slide in my mood that’s gotten me to hyperfocus on computer games to keep from thinking about all the bad thoughts in my head. I haven’t written, I haven’t read in my borderline books, I haven’t walked, I haven’t slept much, yesterday I did the bare minimum on my checklists which was to take my medications. I didn’t even keep an eye on my blood glucose. It’s been that kind of week.

Today is a “lights on, blinds open” kind of day, one that I really prefer there be no dark corners in the house. Having the lights on and the blinds open puts the maximum amount of light in the house, and helps to boost my mood artificially. Once again, I’m back to gaming. Tomorrow, though, that’s the day I turn things around and get back on track.

Good thoughts and well wishes would be appreciated while I quest forth and destroy zombies and other foul undead creatures. Today I barely want to do even that.

Dead Panic, Ice Cubes, and Walkabouts

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This morning I was supposed to start my intensive outpatient program, the one I’ve been putting off since October.

Note the use of the words “supposed to.”

I woke up in a dead panic about my day. I think it started when I realized that I would be out and about and away from my checklists, which have become my life manager these days, and that I would need to pack certain things to go with me to the hospital. What if I forgot something? What if I didn’t hear an alarm? What would I need to change to make my day a success?

This led quickly to me in a bawling heap on the couch, absolutely terrified of what I was going to do. I was scared to move, scared to think, and especially scared to make any decision whatsoever. Being asked a question – any question – was a fight/flight/freeze trigger, and I was being asked entirely too many of them. I froze every time.

By the time my wife was off to work, I had made the decision that I would spend the day trying to achieve as many levels on one of my DJ game avatars as I could. Then the servers went down around 9:00 local time and didn’t come back up for nearly six hours. Which led to more panic, though of a lower level. I finally decided my solution was to sleep through the waiting, and that seemed to finally reset my panic-o-meter. As I write this, I’m sitting on the couch watching the indoor cat watch the outdoor cat eat, sipping on a cup of decaf. Life is … well, not good, but at least content again.


When I first posted something about this on Facebook this morning, I got a lot of commentary along the lines of “be easy on yourself.” And that’s where I ran into a roadblock.

“The DBT Skills Workbook” talks about distracting behaviors when someone is in a mindset of self-harm. But they almost exclusively refer to situations where “self-harm” includes activities such as “cutting, pulling out hair, or self-mutilation.” I’ve never cut or self-mutilated once, and I don’t have any hair to pull out (maybe in my case self-harm means growing it out?) so I’m at a loss as to what I can do to distract myself from the type of self-harm that I engage in, self-neglect.

Today I recognized that I needed to self-soothe, another technique that’s used in DBT, and so I decided to bury myself into a computer game and distract myself with that. But during those times of self-neglect, I won’t allow myself food, water, bathroom breaks until it’s almost too late to avoid an accident, reading, watching movies or television, computer games, sleep, or anything else that might be a self-soothing mechanism or a distraction. Or I overeat, to the point of pain and nausea, which over time has led me to becoming morbidly obese. So I’m not sure what to do when my mind slides into self-neglect mode, since it’s much more insidious and stealthy than cutting or mutilation. The same activities that would normally be used to distract me from my form of self-harm are the exact things that my self-harm will not allow me to do.

There is one technique that is recommended in the workbook that might work: holding an ice cube in my hand until the urge to self-neglect passes. If I hold it long enough, I’ll have no choice but to practice self-care, as my hand will be too cold for me to do anything else but see to warming back up. I have to hold it over a sink since I’d be dripping melting ice water over everything, and by staying in one place with nothing to trigger me but the dishes, I’m not stimulated by little things stacking on top of one another in my environment. (When in the state called “emotion mind,” which is where I almost always am when I practice self-neglect, it’s easy for one little thing to become huge, and for several little things to become mentally crippling. The goal, I believe, is to pull yourself out of “emotion mind” and into either “reason mind” or “wise mind,” where you can look at triggers more objectively.) There’s little chance of actual injury from holding ice in your hand (unless you do it for hours at a time) and the aftereffects are much less harmful than stuffing my face to the point of agony. Plus I have permission to pee.

Another might be to have something – just one thing – that is permitted no matter what, so that I can allow myself enough of a distraction to reset my “emotion mind.” I don’t think being on the computer should be this thing, since there’s oftentimes so many negative stimuli coming from news and social media that it becomes one of those stacking situations I spoke of earlier. Walking, perhaps, should be that always-allowed distraction. It gets me out of the house without making me face the public except in passing; it gives me the distraction of my walking playlist to listen to and silently sing along with (I’m in too bad a shape to walk 3 miles an hour and sing; just … no); it releases endorphins that naturally serve to chemically soothe me.

In a short time, physical exercise has gone from something I avoid at all costs to something that I’m using as a soothing technique. If there’s no other indicator that I’m getting healthier, this is it.

Radical Acceptance

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Photo: The Holy Grail prop used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Image taken from indianajones.wikia.com; the prop itself is the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd.

As promised in last night’s Three Good Things post, I wanted to talk more about the concept of radical acceptance and my rudimentary understanding of it. This is based off a revelation I had while reading “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy.D., and Jeffrey Brantley, MD.

The copy I’m reading originally came from my wife’s library. She purchased it for her own use, lost it, bought it again in an e-book format, then we found the original, which she’d barely written in with a pencil. Five minutes with an eraser and I had a virtually new copy all to myself.

It’s important to note that my wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder before I was, and in our attempts to understand what she was beginning to go through, I’d picked up a couple of books and did some research online. We knew that the first step was something called “radical acceptance,” where you accept yourself just as you are, warts and all.

This was a concept that I had trouble with even when I first learned about it. How are you supposed to accept who you are when you know all those mistakes that you’ve made and just thinking about them brings those same emotions washing over you just as they first did when the mistake first occurred? How does one even begin to break that cycle? So for a while, the concept of “radical acceptance” was something that was a nebulous thing, a legend, a myth – something that we weren’t sure could or did exist, but would change my life if I could just find it. (Even before I was diagnosed with BPD, I knew that the concept would be a helpful one for me. Did I know in my bones that I really had BPD all this time? Not sure if I’ll ever be able to say.) Radical acceptance became something of a Holy Grail for me to search for, doubting I’d ever find it.

Fast forward to last night, when I was reading in the workbook and discovered that radical acceptance goes beyond just yourself and your self-image. It deals with accepting your present environment, whether it be good or bad, as being the perfect combination of all the events and decisions that have transpired before it. This is a concept that I more or less adhere to. Oftentimes I reminisce about some of the experiences that I have in life, and usually my wife will ask if I wish that I had done things differently, that my life was somehow easier than it is now. Invariably I tell her that I don’t wish anything were different because I don’t know if one tiny change in my past may have resulted in me missing out on meeting her, falling in love, and marrying my best friend and soulmate. When I read those words last night, I was stunned to realize I’d been practicing radical acceptance all this time – I just wasn’t directing it inward toward myself.

The revelation came when I realized that I can’t be a different person than the experiences that brought me to this point have led me to be. The two are interconnected, and that means that I am exactly the person that I mean and want to be, right now, in this moment.

If I can radically accept what events in my life brought me to this point, whether they be good or bad, it’s not that far of a stretch to radically accept the person those events made me into.

Last night, I found my Holy Grail. And unlike whatever Indiana Jones tells you, it resides within me. And my wife’s resides within her. And yours resides within you. All it takes is just accepting this moment as being perfect within all the imperfections that led to it. Accepting yourself as a product of all the moments before this is just a simple leap of faith. And any Indiana Jones fan worth his or her salt will tell you that’s the way to finding the Grail.