failing and failing spectacularly

Recently I came across an inspirational quote that says, “fall down seven times, get up on eight.” I thought, “That makes zero sense. Every time you fall down, you get back up.” Why make this distinction specifically on number 8?

I get what this quote is saying: no matter how often you fail, you should always get up. But why aren’t we discussing those previous seven failures?

I think about failure. A lot.

This quote got me thinking about my own perceived failures. For example, my partner and I currently eat a no added sugar, low sodium, no gluten (me, not my partner), no cow dairy (I’m allergic) diet. It took us weeks to get in the groove. We were not eating out; we cooked all of our meals; we figured out what foods worked best for us. I wasn’t really bored with what we’re eating but it wasn’t always a gourmet meal at every turn. We did great for a month until we celebrated an event by going out to eat and I ate things I wasn’t supposed to have. “Just this one time,” I said. And that one time became two, and then three, and then we were back to eating most of our meals at restaurants and all my hard work was pushed aside. I tried to be mindful of what I was eating but that took a backseat since the food tasted good, why did being mindful matte I thought, and so I kept eating. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before all the health problems I have eating the foods I shouldn’t be eating flared up again.

I began to look at patterns of thought on failure with conversations with friends. I want to live a mindful life; be kinder to others; I want to live a fulfilling life as well as one that is healthy; I want to be spiritually and creatively fulfilled. As I looked closely at those communication and thought patterns, I noticed how often I thought of myself as “failing”: I am not a good person, I’m mostly OK. I am not as kind to others as I should be. My life doesn’t feel that fulfilling though many people tell me I am strong and inspirational. My healthy lifestyle is in fits and spurts. The list goes on.

Why am I so hard on myself? Why am I not letting go?

Why do I feel like I am always failing?

But I want to go deeper. “Fall down seven, get up on eight.”

Other patterns I notice in the media I consume emerged: we aren’t really talking about our failures. Article after article gloss over the attempts and mostly concentrate on the successes. I get that, I do. Reading about success stories can be overwhelming because the first thing you want to do is compare yourself to the writer of that article against things you want but we want to read about them to reaffirm our own goals on moving forward. “It took them four submissions to get their book published and I’m rejected at every turn.” “They were able to lose weight / get a better job with almost no effort and I can’t do yoga or lose an ounce.”

We know none of these goals are easy to come by but yet we keep insisting success is as simple as playing the piano for the first time and assuming we’ll sound like Mozart.

It takes practice.

Fall down seven, get up on eight.

As these thoughts became ideas and the ideas became something I could work on. First, and this was hard, I had to make peace with my failures. Even Mozart, a prodigy, still had to practice to become, well, Mozart. Second, I had to look at failing as a positive step and not a negative one. This one is huge. Just because I wasn’t as generous with my heart with others doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It means I needed to work on my own boundaries before I could give more to others in a way that mattered to me. Third, failing was a source of inspiration as it allowed me to explore outside of my boundaries. Failing is growth. Failing is acceptance. Failing allows me to fine tune my needs and wants to what best suited me allowing me to stop obsessing over others and working on making the best me that could possibly be.

Failing allows me to find different paths and tools. The whole world opens up when you fail.

Now, I see what I consider my failures to be gifts. Sometimes I am excited if things don’t work out because it allows me to reexamine my methods. Failing allows me to put faith in myself that I can do this thing, work at it, and the practice will eventually pay off. Failing reminds me I have tenacity and grit and creativity and patience.

Failing reminds me I am human and I have the capacity to do and be so much more than we originally set out to achieve.

We should often fail and fail spectacularly because you never know what could happen when you do.

Advertisements

we should not give a fuck on what others think (but yet we do)

I have a big problem.

Huge actually.

I give a fuck about what people think.

Often I am told that seems the opposite of who I project. I’m shouty, assertive, opinionated, and pretty heavily tattooed. I look and sound like I could eat you for lunch and spit you out and that I give no fucks.

And sure, to some extent that is true but the wanting to be liked and giving no fucks manifests itself in different ways.

Example: with past romantic relationships, it doesn’t matter who broke up with whom, I taught myself early on that if they didn’t want me, I didn’t want to be with them and if I didn’t want to be with them, it didn’t matter if they wanted me.

Yet, I use sex as a way to show that I love and am loved.

(There has only been one man in my romantic history this attitude is nullified and that is my partner. But our relationship is another series of blog posts.)

Another example: I don’t give a fuck about what people think of what I wear. I’m in my mid-40s and my off-duty wardrobe is pop culture t-shirts, jeans/shorts/skirts, Chucks, and cardigans. Sometimes I break it up with dresses but for the most part, my clothing choices haven’t changed since my 20s but when I see someone looking effortless chic in clothes I would wear, I feel like a slob or dowdy in my clothing choices. I don’t feel cute or pretty, I feel awful and fat.

Yet another example: I keep telling myself, and proclaim to others, I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay and on some level, I wholly believe that but when I’m not having a good mental health day, I question why anyone likes me at all because I feel like I have nothing to contribute or give.

More examples: I fret when people unfriend / like / follow me on social media. What did I do that they decided they didn’t want me in their lives and how can I change it so this doesn’t happen again? I have two graduate degrees but put me up against someone who is a lawyer, doctor, or some kind of engineer and I feel stupid. When people tell me I’m smart, I don’t believe them. My days of feeling body positive is shot to shit if I find myself next to someone of my height who is obviously thinner than me. But strangely, I know I am attractive and I don’t give a fuck what people think of my face only what my body looks like.

If I am eating in public, I feel like I’m being judged.

I believe I am always being judged, compared, and expected to follow a set of rules and regulations that only those doing the judging know about.

The list goes on and on and I have a zillion of examples of the divisive behaviour.

I yearn for attention and for it to be positive.

I want my goddamned gold stars for jobs well done.

I am constantly projecting my beliefs on other people.

I am constantly competing with the world, give up when I feel it’s not good enough.

Living this way is fucking exhausting.

Talking it over with my therapist and verbally expressing this publicly is hard. (I was taking a break writing this post and started tweeting my thoughts on the matter but as it became a thread, I stopped to concentrate those thoughts here.) I think deep down we all want to be liked and self-assured but I feel like I take it to a whole new level. I genuinely feel the only way I’ll be successful is if people like me and since I believe they don’t which damages my self-worth, I’ll consistently fail.

But why do I think this way?

There is a lot of differing factors, I’m theorizing, that are contributing to this. It’s my relationship with my body and food. It’s my relationship towards sex. Bipolars are known to be hyper-sexualized. I have sex to be loved. A therapist a few years back told me I didn’t have to have sex if I didn’t want to. Logically, I’ve always known this but to hear it from someone else was freeing. I stopped having sex so much because I thought it was expected of me and I stopped using sex for leverage. The person I was sleeping with at the time thought I had lost interest when I didn’t want to fuck them 2-3x a day. When I told them what the therapist said, they were genuinely disappointed we weren’t fucking 2-3x a day. That told me much about the relationship, and of them, and it wasn’t too long before we separated.

It’s my relationship with my parents. My parents split when I was still a baby and my mother, who has always worked, continued to work so I felt like if I was a good girl and I was mindful of my behaviour, she wouldn’t need to be away from the home so much. It’s my relationship with my extended family. There was always competition to be heard. I attributed it growing up as a German Catholic who are stereotyped as loud and boisterous but I only learned later how dysfunctional my extended family really was.

It’s my relationship with education and intelligence. I was always placed in gifted programs but I had a hard time with classwork and tests. I dropped out of high school. Twice. I got my GED when I was 19. Even though I went on to double major in my undergrad and got two graduate degrees, a statistical anomaly of those who get GEDs, it wasn’t enough. I recently found my transcripts and I felt like my grades were poor even though statistically I did well. It’s my problems with pronunciations and word retrieval when I speak that makes me feel like I sound like an idiot.

I wouldn’t learn until my mid-30s I had ADD. How much would have my belief system and approach to education and my intelligence have changed if I could have managed my brain or even believed in myself?

This thought process I’ve outlined here is always going on in my brain and like I said, it’s fucking exhausting.

In order to be mindful, I need to be present. In being present, I find peace. If I worry about the future, I am giving myself reasons to be anxious and if I worry about the past, I am letting my depression overtake me. If I’m constantly comparing myself to others, I lose out on my own projects I am putting into the world.

Some of these responses to our lives are normal but it’s how we approach and deal with them is in my opinion what sets me apart from others. I have ideas and dreams that I want to follow and living in this cycle is prohibiting me living my best life.1

So the question is: How do I find self-worth in who I am and genuinely stop comparing myself and projecting my thoughts on to others so I can move forward?

In a recent therapy session, I was talking about this very topic and how I constantly compare myself to people and my extreme jealousy of their lives. My therapist immediately asked if I was a danger to myself or to those people aka was I stalking them? Jesus, no, I said. I only read their Twitter feeds a few times a week and sometimes I’ll look up if they have articles written about them. I’ll go weeks, sometimes months, of not giving a shit about these people only to find myself scrolling through their Twitter feeds or  Google images of photos of them or listening to podcasts of old interviews they’ve done and I’ll do this over the course of a few days. Then I become disgusted with myself, stop this nonsense, forget for a few weeks or a month, and eventually start all over again.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Her question, quite rightly, scared me. Could I become a stalker? Am I getting all Single White Female up in here? Bipolars and Borderlines are known to be obsessive. I didn’t feel like I could become that woman stalking people but being honest with myself, I could see how my actions could multiple and could be interpreted as such. My therapist said it’s okay to have an interest in someone’s life like a celebrity or a band; we’re curious human beings, but it’s my 0 – 60 attitude towards it that becomes or could be problematic.

I need to stop this behaviour.

I want to stop this behaviour.

I want to live my best life.

So what’s next? How do I stop this cycle and get some self-esteem?

My partner says, “Just stop doing what you’re doing. You know you’re self-sabotaging and hurting yourself.”

But that is easier to say than to do, right? Anyone who has some kind of addiction to something like smoking knows that even the desire to quit isn’t enough. I knew all the health perils of smoking or the smell of my clothes or the yellowing of my fingers should have been enough to stop me from smoking but since I associated smoking with alleviating extreme stress, eating nice meals, and staving off boredom of long drives, “just one more cigarette” was all it took for me to get back in the habit. My partner at the beginning of our relationship said, “It’s me or the cigarettes” and that shook me. I started working on giving up cigarettes and it was hard as fuck. The early stages of withdrawal were torture. Sometimes I fell back into the habit when I was particularly anxious or stressed like when my mother died but I’ve been 90% smoke-free for the last decade.

What changed and how do I apply that to what I am outlining here?

I wish I could magick up some reasonable answer. Logically, and rationally, I know measuring myself against others is detrimental to my well-being. I know I am worth more than I give myself credit for and I’ve accomplished a lot of what I set out to accomplish. When I’ve hinted around this topic to others, many have said there are those who admire me which blows my mind because I always ask why?

Knowing the rational and logical way isn’t always enough because there is always the “just one more time” and “I promise I’ll never do this again” itis. Because it doesn’t matter if I stop visiting my interests social media as there is always something else somewhere else I’m comparing myself to which feeds the worthlessness.

We all know, at the end of the day, we’re all the same, right? We want to be loved and admired but we’re so busy gunning for that affection we forget who we are and what is important to us. This is often discussed as imposter syndrome. The idea is to “fake it til you make it” but what if you can’t even fake it? What then?

It’s a dichotomy: I believe those who say they don’t give two fucks are deceiving themselves but at the same time I believe we want to believe that to be true.

If you have been around the self-help/self-care/mindfulness/happiness blogosphere even for a bit, you’ll see a lot of commentary on creating mantras because if you say it often enough, you may end up believing it. This is even a tool in DBT. I thought this was a bit of hooey but as I type this out, I’m thinking maybe that’s not a bad idea. I am pretty desperate these days to get off of this ferris wheel of self-hatred. I’ve got shit to do!

One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about being mindful when you have a mental illness and as a document to journey where I am and where I’m going. I have to accept that there are days I am going to fail and there will be times when I am successful in believing in myself. So, I’m going to start a few things:

  1. Scale way back on reading up on or checking out the objects of my interests social lives
  2. Document the days when I do and document the days that I don’t obsess over other people’s lives. The goal is to make the days in between the dos longer and longer just like I did when I attempted to and eventually quit smoking.
  3. Write a mantra in my daily ToDo list to check off so I have a constant daily reminder of my own awesomeness

These steps seem small, I know, but it’s something. If I have to stick a post it on my laptop to remind me of those small steps can mean large changes, then I will.

I can honestly say despite all the ugliness portrayed here, I believe enough in me to give this a try.

1. I am not Oprah but I use this term because it does have a value in explanation.

 

gratitudes

What the fuck is being grateful? How do you apply it, search for it, acknowledge it? What does it mean? What will it do? How is it different than being happy? Where does being thankful or blessed come into play?

So many fucking questions!

Let’s break down the grateful vs everything else:

Grateful is appreciative of a kindness of a thing/person/whatever that helps you in your life and is long lasting and on-going. It’s an action. e.g. I am grateful for my partner being understanding of me.

Thankful is a feeling of something and it’s momentary. e.g. I am thankful for people who read my words.

#Blessed (I hate this word) is when you feel lucky to have something in your life that went your way. e.g. I am #blessed Converse had a massive sale this weekend.

Defining the words is often like splitting hairs. The difference between grateful vs thankful vs blessed can be, at times, miniscule. I found that we often trip up on the words themselves rather than concentrate on the act of practice and we get bogged down wondering if we’re doing it right or not.

Being grateful is an act and you should always acknowledge it. Being kind to your partner because they are supportive of you goes a long way to your own mindful being. You should feel thankful in the moment when someone does a particular act of kindness towards you. Did they put gas in your car? Get you take-out when you’re not feeling well? Spending a second telling them you are thankful for their kindness speaks volumes of your appreciation of them and it makes both of you feel good for being in that moment.

Now #blessed, #blessed on the other hand is a cheap word used by religious folk and braggarts of their lifestyle to illustrate the material goods in their life. It’s far overused on social media and has lost all meaning. You’re not #blessed because you hit a Converse outlet store and walked out of there with four pairs of Chucks for $86 (unless you’re me and you did this then you are #blessed), you just happened along to a great sale. If you’re going to persist to be #blessed, be #blessed you have food on the table when other’s may not or that you have a job if the economy is tight. Being #blessed does not mean you were lucky to get a pair of $300 shoes for $50. And please, for the love of fuck, stop tagging your insta photos as #blessed.

I know I said the differences is minuscule but you should be practicing all three on a daily basis. Acknowledge someone or something for the gratitude of their action. Every day I tell my partner how grateful I am for when he takes care of me mentally, emotionally, and the other -lys so he knows I have gratitude towards his kindness. After every meal, whether he cooks or we do take out, I thank him for the food that I just ate. We’ve been together for eight years—why am I still thanking him? Because I want him to know that his act of cooking keeps us sustained with food and I’m thankful for that. I need to practice being blessed, as much as I want to grit my teeth when it comes to this word, but I am blessed I have a roof over my head and food in my belly.

Why should you practice these things? Because at that very moment you are participating in life and you’re being present. Showing gratitude, thankfulness, and being #blessed are good reminders to slow down and enjoy the here and now.

How do you search what you’re being grateful/thankful/blessed? Honestly? What helped me was looking at people’s examples to get inspiration for my own. A few years ago I did a project that to give myself a limit of coming up with 100 things I was grateful for and 100 things that made me happy. I didn’t think I could come up with ten but once I got going, it went by pretty fast. Here is the list. Creating the happiness part was easier: I just thought about things I liked and started writing them down.

How often should you create your own lists? This is a hard question. There are so many websites that have you do them in the morning, at night, write one, write 10 and that is confusing. So, I say: Do what the fuck you want. If you think writing down what you’re grateful/thankful/blessed for needs to happen before you go to sleep, then do it or before you get out of bed, do it. If you think that you should do one, five, or ten, that’s completely up to you. It’s your list. You don’t have to subscribe to any one particular way. Websites also like to sell you tools to do this. I made you a starter worksheet for free. Download the worksheet here. But be careful. Lots of people, just like in making ToDo lists, get caught up in the making of the list rather than the list itself. You don’t need washi tape, sparkle gel pens, or fancy paper to make the list. Just make the damned list.

Let’s talk about happiness. I mention above I just came up with things that I liked and I matched it for every gratitude I came up with. I am grateful that I am tenacious AND Trader Joe’s dark chocolate pretzels make me happy. I just came up with things/places/experiences of things that made me happy. There is no simipler way to explain this.

When I created my gratitude/happy list, I did one to one so I could be in the now as I wrote them. But looking back at it now, I should have done the act on a daily basis and not sit down and write ten at a time. Since it’s been two years since the last list was made, I’ve started a new list and I’ve turned it into a blog. Every day I will post one gratitude and one thing that makes me happy and it gets posted to the blog, my Facebook and my Twitter accounts. If you visit this blog directly, I also have the lists coming up in the right sidebar.

I don’t front load the lists meaning I don’t sit down and write out days ahead of time. I do a single one for the following day. It reminds me of that particular thing that I’m grateful for or that makes me happy and it allows me to continue that practice without rushing through it. (Side note: We’re going to be on vacation next week for a week so I’ll be front loading then but that will be the only time!)

Bottom line: Should you be making gratitude lists? The answer is a resounding YES! Becoming mindful is a daily practice and creating a gratitude and happy lists is easy and takes only a minute. You don’t need special tools or spend money to do it. It’s the easiest way to start to slide into being mindful. And remember: There is no right or wrong way to do the lists and no right or wrong way on what to add. This sounds selfish, but showing gratitude is for you and about you. Don’t give a fuck what other people think.  If you’re grateful for the rain, then write down you’re grateful for the rain. If you think looking at your partner while they have tissue paper rolled up their nose makes you happy, so be it!

Just make the damn list!

 

 

 

 

Star Signs

I wrote about spirituality the other day because as part of the three tenants of a healthy life, mind and body being the other two, having a spiritual belief system can help you gain a better understanding of your wants and needs as well as form a community of those with similar beliefs. There is also an enrichment of having conversations with those with opposing belief systems because it helps to strengthen your own as well as giving you a better understanding of other’s doctrines.

My birthday is June 12. According to astrology, I am a solid Gemini. Geminis do things in contradictory to each other and they do those things with intensity. Geminis can be both introverts and extroverts; loving and aloof. They are curious, sociable, and the life of the party. In turn, they can be distant, serious, and restless. Geminis are creatives and really into sex.

I am also bipolar. Bipolars can be introverts and sociable, the life of the party; loving and aloof; curious and restless. The most famous of creatives, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Path, David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton (who all died by their own hand it should be noted)—the list goes on— were bipolar. Aggressive and assertive sexual health is related to unmanaged bipolar as well as those with borderline personality disorder.

So, are my moods related to my mental health or to my star sign?

When I was younger, before my diagnoses, I believed my personality traits were attributed to my star sign. OF COURSE, I was angry and then joyful, my star sign was in full bloom. My sexual prowess? Totally related to being a Gemini and not being unmedicated. Every once in a while, I will do something “typical” of Geminis and forget for a minute that same thing is attributed to my mental health.

Even though science shows me my traits and personality are derived from my mental illness, I still have a belief in astrology and the metaphysical. Mental health has a stigma attached to it. You talk about being mentally ill and people’s perceptions of you change and often not for the better. Finding a community can often be triggering.  No one wants to discuss mental health because it could be catchable, dangerous, or full of bullshit. You just need to pull up your bootstraps, stop fucking around, and do whatever it is you need to do. Your anxiety/ depression/addiction is just all in your mind (literally). But astrology? Oh, people love discussing astrology and the esoteric world. It’s easier to believe your issues relate that your star sign is mutable or that your ascension into a particular time and place is the reason for your faulty handling of money or your overactive sex life or why you can’t get the perfect job and it’s even more fun to argue against this belief system. Having an interest in astrology is cute while being mentally ill is dangerous.

But let me be very clear while I like to believe in my star signs, it does not and should not replace the diagnosis of my mental illnesses. This is where belief systems like astrology can get perilous: some will attribute their quirks or personality traits to where their star sign is located or what their palms tell them or how the tea leaves fall and forgo their mental illness help or treatment putting their lives in danger. I know it’s hard, there is fun to believe in mystics and the relation of the sky on a particular day, but it does not nor will it ever replace an illness that is treatable or at least managed.

Be mindful of the blurring of the two and seek medical help when you’re in a crisis no matter how intriguing it can be of the sun falling into Jupiter on a particular day predicts the abundance of money in your life.

 

 

 

9 reasons why you should make a g-d to-do list

Let’s talk about those damn to-do lists.

Searching for “to-do lists mental health” brings up a lot a ton of results. Do them, don’t do them. They are too stressful, they are helpful. Studies show that but opinion says otherwise.

You get my drift.

So, I’ll cut to the chase: I love them, I think they are helpful in managing my mental illness symptoms and no, I’m nost just saying this because I am a librarian.

When you are in the throes of a mental health crisis, the last thing you want to do is create a damn list and follow it. The idea of that simple act can be, and typically is, anxiety producing. It doesn’t help people tend to overwhelm themselves by putting too much on the lists. But here’s the thing: You can prep the list for days when you may not mentally feel good and you don’t need to do all the things on the list which can help in alleviating that stress. (But you should probably be walking your dog on a daily basis. Just an FYI.)

Let’s head back to the lists. There are literally a million and one ways to create and use lists. Apps, websites, plus good ole pen and paper are usually used. People swear by apps and websites like Remember the Milk and Trello. There is also Pomodoro and GTD as techniques. Don’t even get me started on Bullet Journal fanatics as those people are unhinged (and I mean that in the most loving of ways).

I’ve tried them all, constantly adding apps, buying and canceling subscriptions, spending too much time and money on washi tape, stickers, colored pens and markers for the Bullet Journal. I was also spending a lot of money on blank journals and to-do list paper notebooks. I found myself half-heartedly using a particular method for a few days or spending way too much time color coding things. I was utterly overwhelmed, exhausted, broke, and still not getting shit done.

2018 began and I swore yet another time I would start a to-do list to get myself organized. I bought a Moleskine 2018 pocket sized daily planner (it was 50% off. I do not understand people who buy dated material before it begins when you can get calendars and such typically 50% off after January 1). I was going to create lists and carry it in my purse so I always had it with me.

That lasted a week because I found it was too small for my needs.

I work from home and I juggle a lot of projects. I have a Filofax A5 Domino planner (holy cats! It’s only $22!) that I bought back in 2015. I’ve been carting it around for ages and using it on and off to keep track of said projects which more or less works out okay. An idea hit me that perhaps I should get some calendar paper and give my Filofax a whirl for creating my to-do lists. I bought four months of page a day paper and got to work.

First, I needed to come up with what I was to-do-ing. I didn’t need to list walk the dog or eat because even in the darkest times, the dog still got walked 3x a day and I would at least eat something. I made the bed every day and while the ritual soothed me, I also didn’t need to add it to the list. I definitely needed to add stretching because while it was a daily thing, I was not doing it or remembering it late at night and opted to skip with the intention of doing it the following day which almost never happened. Doing my DBT coursework— the same thing as stretching. I needed to do it, conveniently forgot, and it would be weeks before I did anything typically pushing me back to the beginning of the workbook.

So, I needed to make a list that reminded me to do things, often on specific days so even when I was huddled up as a ball on the bed, I didn’t have to add the stress feeling guilty for doing nothing to my already chaotic mind. I believe a lot of people are like this: just as creating a list when you’re anxious or depressed can add stress, the same can be said if do not create the list.

Here’s what I have for today:

That’s part of the list but you get my point.

I then started repeating things on specific days. I needed to update A Courtesan Poet daily for National Poetry Month but I only need to brush the dog’s teeth every other day. I can knock out a few weeks of Excessively Diverting Quotes in an hour-ish so that became a weekly thing instead of hustling to get it done when I remembered. The nice thing is I get so much done on the quotes, I can skip a week if I need to without feeling guilty. I only needed to do the collection of my website and social media stats so I choose the 1st of the month to complete that task. Then there are always one-offs such as dropping off donations to the local charity shop.

I was also mindful of things I needed to do but had no specific time. I carried over “shred paperwork” day by day but accepted it wasn’t getting done this week so I just moved to the beginning of next. My recent bout of mania made it impossible for me to begin studying for the CCENT so I moved that a few weeks out. I worked on being self-aware of not to overload the list when I realistically knew I could not finish the task (aka adding more stress).

Here’s what I found: Using a simple page a day calendar saved me a lot of stress and I got shit done because I wasn’t directing my energy elsewhere. I didn’t need color coding indexes or tabs and sub lists to get said shit done. The list was simple, practical, and it helped me get focused on doing the least minimum amount of work during those especially hard days. And honestly? There was a huge sense of pride that I was able to complete some tasks such as brushing the dog’s teeth or taking a shower because sometimes that’s all you need. Knowing you have completed something, even if it as simple as taking a shower, helps the mood considerably.

Bullet Journal and the apps and websites claim they can be as simple or complex as you want but what is often ignored is the user experience and interactions with those services. With a plain piece of paper and a pen, you know exactly what you’re getting without complications, software upgrades, or running out of colored pens.

Should you create to-do lists? Here are nine reasons why:

  • Planning ahead, even small things like remembering to shower, can help elevate the mood when you’re in crisis
  • You will have a concrete list of things to do when you’re feeling better without the guilt of “forgetting” them
  • It helps clear your mind allowing you to stay focused on the tasks at hand
  • It helps you to be better organized so you’re not overwhelmed when you are in crisis
  • It helps better manage your time
  • It’s a great coping mechanism, especially when you cross things off, when you’re depressed or anxious
  • Your lists don’t have to be to-dos. Lists like gratitudes (or adding to your to-do list to write a new gratitude a day), movies you love, or whatever can also be used a coping skill or as a self-soothing process
  • Your lists can be as granular (take a shower, brush my teeth) or as broad (write the great American best seller) as you want. There are no limits
  • It keeps your mind focused instead of letting it wander to your chaotic thoughts

I created a simple printable download* to get you started. Of course, not everyone are to-do list people but it doesn’t hurt to at least give it a go. Now go forth and to-do!

*All my work, unless otherwise specified, is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This means you can download, remix and reuse, share, but not sell, my work as long as you give attribution back to me. Question? Contact me.

Breathing

At any therapy, mindfulness session, DBT book, or whatever, the first thing discussed is how to breathe.

Like what the hell man, I already know how to breathe!

No, no you don’t.

It’s super easy. I promise. Anyone can do this.

Take a deep breath counting into five through your nose. Now take a deep breath out counting to five via your mouth.

Annnndddd you’re done.

You can do breath work anytime and anywhere. When you’re driving, watching TV, or before you go to sleep. A good rule of thumb is work on your breath work for about a minute at a time. It’s especially helpful when you’re in a crisis, stressed, or your mind is amped.

Learning how to breathe, properly breathe, creates a present moment. It may not feel like it, but you are here. Now. In this space. Your only focus is on the body as you breathe in and then breathe out. Because you’re being present, the mind starts to slow down. Literally all the therapy I’ve been through and DBT books I’ve worked through use breath work in the very beginning because it can often help someone who is in crisis to calm down and to relax.

My favorite phrase is “That shit is hard,  yo!” when I talk about being mindful, and I’ll probably overuse that phrase, but learning how to breathe is hard work. Even now as I write this, and I’m coming down from week long manic episode, I am breathing in for five through my nose and breathing out for five via the mouth as I type but my first inclination is to rush through it. I don’t want to be here.

So, I stopped writing and worked on breath work for a minute and I felt like I could physically feel the pushback. My mind is screaming, “We are just fine, thank you!” but I know it’s half-truth. My brain is mostly fine with the legit drugs but it’s not wholly fine and that’s what I’m looking to work through.

My brain can be an asshole at times.

I’m writing about breath work and I just completed a cycle of breath work but I feel like nothing has changed but it has. That is totally OK. One thing I will drill in your head as much as I need to drill it in mine is being mindful is about practice. There is no gold star, no ending, no grand prize at the end. Some days it’s going to really fucking suck and other days you’re going to feel amazing.

You can do breath work any time you want and how many times a day you want. There is no limit. Sometimes I do it before I drive because driving can often give me anxiety. Other times when I’m spacing out (lack of awareness of anything or anywhere), I will snap back and do breath work to remind myself I am physically in this body at this very moment in time. When I feel my anger rising, and if you’re bipolar holy fuck does it get amped, I try and stop to do breath work before something terrible comes out of my mouth.

Even if my mind is not a calm place, doing breath work totally brings me to the moment. I can take stock and say, “Okay, Lisa. You’re about to get angry over a stupid thing. Take a step back and chill.” Even just thinking of doing breath work before I explode is being present.

Don’t forget to breathe today and remind yourself you are very much here.

Punk Rock Mindfulness

I’m a woman with a plan and that plan is to become less crazy and more mindful.

Let me back up.

I was diagnosed, by three separate doctors, as Bipolar I, ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and General Anxiety Disorder. I am a freaking delight! No, really. I am quite charming.

That’s kind of the whole point: I can either be charming, persuasive, extrovert, the life of the party, and everyone loves me or I can be a bitch on wheels, demanding, caustic, aggressive, and a toxic person to be around. These are just the beginnings of my personality. With any mood disorders, there is rarely any stability; there is always super highs and super lows and where normality doesn’t exist.

(And it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’ve lost friends, lovers, and a few jobs when I was unmedicated because that is how these diseases roll.)

That somehow I’ve managed to not end up in a psych hospital or jail is a small miracle. This is the kind of life I lead where I regularly pat myself on the back and say, “Congratulations! You are not locked up anywhere!” I wish that weren’t true but it very much is.

After trying and failing over various therapies and drug cocktails over the years, I went cold turkey in 2013 and this begat 2014 which was the worst year of my life. Some highlights include ramping up a mania phase, divorcing my husband (we’re back together; that man is a saint), moving across country six times in nine months, and racking up $40K in credit card bills during the same time period.

That was fun!

I sought help and was put on a new cocktail but six months later, I crashed and had a nervous breakdown.

Since then, I’ve been slowly rebuilding my life. It’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. I’m currently on a daily cocktail of Lamictal (400mg), Risperdal (2mg), Hydroxyzine (25mg), and Klonopin (my fav!) as needed as well as seeing a weekly therapist and a couple’s therapist and it’s (mostly) working. This is the most stable I have been in my adult life.

Above my laptop, I have a sign that says,

Future -> Anxiety
Past -> Depression
Present Moment -> Peace
Paralyzed or Participating

Even with the therapy and the nicely working drugs, I still live in my brain. A lot. I still get depressed and manic (I am in fact manic now as I write this) but the instances are less and the cycles are manageable. But I am often paralyzed because I keep telling myself it’s easier to live a stagnant life as participating means becoming vulnerable and present and who the hell wants to be vulnerable and aware of the pain they are going through?

I know you get me on this.

Right after I crashed, I wrote a piece for a professional publication on managing bipolar. In it, I talk a lot about meditation and mindfulness. The truth between you and I? I was half-assing it. The meditation app I used gamified your participation so you got badges when you completed certain tasks and I ignored most of the advice given. I did yoga but I rushed through it because I saw it as a chore and not as a tool. I didn’t live in the present, hell, I didn’t know where I was living but I wasn’t fully accepting and willing to make changes though I attempted to convince myself otherwise.

I started writing about my mental health back in the late ’90s and you can watch, in real time, the train wreck of my late 20s and early 30s. I gave no fucks. I was all over the place. I either wanted to fuck you or destroy you. I was quite entertaining. While much of that has slowed down with age and the mentality softened, I was still quite adrift. I used writing as a means to work through my brain, since the drugs and therapy at the time didn’t seem to work, and by late 2016, I felt I had said all I wanted to say about mental health so I closed up my blog and moved over to a newsletter where I write more about my trials and tribulations and less about my crazy. (I am very entertaining! You should go subscribe.)

I also wrote for another professional publication on anger and as well as raising funds for the American Suicide Prevention Foundation, but the more I participated in the mental health community, the more mentally and emotionally exhausted I became and I had no more to give.

Turns out I was wrong.

As my stability increased over the last couple of years, I found myself feeling guilty when I saw friends who were perhaps not as stable as me struggle. How could I, I thought, find a tiny bit of peace when they could find none? It felt unfair and I wanted to help but I had to start helping myself first. First, I finally started putting to work the tools I had gleaned over the years and finally created healthy boundaries to make me a better alley. Second, I started less half-assing being mindful and started to work on being present. (Shit is hard, yo!) Finally, I came to the realization I could not live in a world where my story wasn’t available to others as a touchstone so that they did not feel alone just as my friends felt they could relate to me. I want to say, I’ve been there. It’s hard. I’ve got you and you’ll be okay.

I have a foundation, albeit a bit shakey, but still a foundation to begin building the practice of having a mindful life. I finally said, “Self. Living a paralyzed life sucks and I want to experience joy. Time to get our shit together.”

If you search for mindfulness and mental health, what comes up are counseling centers, doctors, and classes/courses. If it’s being discussed, it’s academic. If you find a blog, it centers on a depression which, who am I to shame someone else’s crazy, but there is almost nothing in using mindfulness with those who have bipolar or other mental illnesses. It’s hard finding like minded people when the top results are doctors and academic articles.

This is where this blog comes in.

The sole purpose is to talk about mindfulness, balance, and spirituality through the eyes of mental illness. (Yes, tarot cards and earth mother goddesses included. It’s all connected.) I have six pages, single spaced, of topics and subjects just itching to be written about. It has become apparent I have a lot more to say about being crazy. I want to become even more vocal of an advocate for mental health and participate fully in the community because it seems ridiculous now not to.

I choose the subtitle “Punk Rock Mindfulness, Spirituality, and Balance” as the ethos of punk rock is very much a DYI and in your face attitude. I’m co-opting it from the music genre because life is very much punk rock and should not be relegated to The Clash or Black Flag. (I still love you Henry Rollins!)

Welcome, I’m really happy to be here.

Note: I am not a doctor, pharmacist, or a licensed therapist. If you need help, the National Suicide Prevention line is open 24 hours a day. If you need a therapist, Psychology Today has a database of therapists organized by location. I’ve also had success using ZocDoc to get a local therapy appointment ASAP when I couldn’t wait months and I wasn’t suicidal. You can also use TalkSpace if you’re not adverse to using online therapy.