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The Good Days – Part 2: Back at the Helm
Hey, how are you? Back to figuring out how to live a functional life with multiple complex disorders and maladaptive behaviours. We’ve figured out how to make the most of resurfacing from the depths of rock-bottom, finding your boat, getting up on it, and standing up. But the work is only just beginning, because now we’re in a position to actually deal with life, and that can be even more terrifying than the bottom of the ocean.
For example, sometimes situations will come up where I’m forced to operate with gaping wounds, like if my son needs me or if I’ve made a commitment that would really be detrimental to cancel (when I’m down in the depths I’m too far gone to care, but when I’m back on board I can usually force myself when necessary). These are things I have to be particularly careful with, because I need to remember that just because I was able to get through these forced activities, doesn’t mean I’m ready to take on the world again. I need to realize that these situations will actually set my recovery back and require me to plan for extra time in the process, and maybe even intentionally put other recovery activities on pause so that I can deal with whatever urgently needs my time and attention. Maybe it means I can’t do my proper sleep hygiene that night, or I need to skip a meal, or I won’t get the alone time that I need. This will reduce the stores of emotional and/or physical energy I have while also using what I do have at an accelerated rate, so extra care and attention are needed afterward.
Again, this all sums up to forcing myself to slow down and not rush into things when I get a boost, which I hate. I hate being emotionally disabled, I hate being sick, and I hate needing to do things differently than everyone else. But it’s kind of like investing instead of spending – something I struggle with when it comes to monetary currency as well as emotional and physical currency. I see something I want, like an interaction or activity, and I burn through my metaphorical bank account and maybe even go into overdraft without thinking about it. I’m only just starting to realize that these emotional and physical debts always come due. Perhaps what’s been happening to me the last couple of years is the equivalent of that massive student loan debt I accumulated and was too anxious to deal with finally going to collections and destroying my credit rating and my ability to do a lot of things that I once dreamed of.
I wish I could just work my butt off for the shortest period of time so that I can pay off my student loans in massive chunks. But there is no way that I can find a job that would pay enough, or have enough hours in the day to work that hard to pay those tens upon tens of thousands of dollars. I hate that I have to be on a payment plan, only being able to pay off a teeny bit at a time that seems inconsequential. Laughable, to be honest. But the thing is, if I did try to work twenty hours a day at a shitty, high-paying, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. I wouldn’t be able to spend any time with my son or my church, or do anything that makes me a human being and not just a robot doing a job day in and day out. I would most certainly fail at the job and potentially even do myself permanent damage before I made even a dent in my loans. As much as I want to be like those people who tell me they worked really hard through school and barely owe anything, and are living debt-free and blah blah blah, I just can’t do that.
When it comes to my monetary debt, I feel inadequate and stupid about the fact that I wracked up all this emotional debt, unlike my peers who managed to get through life without doing that. Surely there must be something wrong with me that I couldn’t have an “attitude of gratitude” and practice enough “self-care” to do my life without slowly becoming hollowed out and riddled with holes. Whenever I get a breather, I feel like I need to do everything I can do make up for lost time, late commitments, and missed deadlines, but in that desperate race repay what I owe I just end up digging myself further into a hole. And this has been the pattern for my ENTIRE LIFE.
The struggles I described before, where even the most miniscule things like breathing properly are difficult, is the equivalent of those debts coming back with interest. When I can no longer keep up the façade and I start losing relationships, work, and opportunities, that’s stuff going to collections. When my symptoms start to become physical and not just mental and emotional, that’s the banker repossessing the house. And when I can no longer cope and I try to kill myself, well, that’s bankruptcy, I guess? My finance knowledge is a little limited. I’m going to talk a bit more about the physical aspects of these mental nuisances later, but let me tell you, it’s absolute hell.
So, how do I consolidate this emotional debt so I can start paying off several things a little at a time? I’m still working on this, and I know this metaphor is no longer really about boats, glorious as they are, but bear with me.
I know I need both the hope and activity, but also rest and caution. I need to be able to at least plan to do things, and make sure that I can opt out of if there’s an emergency that someone else needs me to handle, or if I get hit by another wave and need to hunker down. This way I can recover, pay back those debts with some of my energy, and invest some of it to increase my stores instead of burning through them. As much as I despise it, I know that planning is probably the main thing that’s going to help. And a to-do list might be the best way to budget, just like a budget app will hopefully help me with my money issues.
I think the main obstacle to this comes from my black-and-white thinking, which is particularly characteristic of borderline but a lot of disorders can include this. Even normies can struggle with this: if I don’t complete everything on my list, what is the point of making it? If I don’t complete everything, I’m a total failure and I just lay down to die for days or weeks. Okay, well, normies don’t do that part. Anyway. I get so tempted to put down absolutely everything I need to do within an extremely restrictive schedule. Planning down to the minute because I am just so distressed by the big pile of to-do’s that I feel like I just HAVE to get them all done. But of course, when the list starts to grow to forty or fifty items and takes an hour and a half just to make (yes, this happens), I give up almost immediately, anyway.
Despite this, I know that it will help, if I can work through my perfectionism. I go through life feeling like I’m a waste of space, and that I’m wasting my time, so I’m either at a dead stop of despair, or running at breakneck speed trying to feel worthwhile. Just like I’m either giving up on having good spending habits and burning through my money, or becoming so restrictive that I never spend a penny. Essentially, I’m like an elastic band either gaining tension, getting released, or snapping.
Instead, I’ll try what I did after my second hospitalization last year – dividing up the day into a few sections, and then putting a few priority things into each section depending on how I’m feeling. And not taking it to the extreme – this is the time to put in the minimum effort just to be able to check something off. For example, this was a period when I didn’t go outside for weeks at a time, so I tried to put on my to-do list to go for a walk every day. But then my therapist helped me to get that down to maybe four times a week, which was still hard. I had it in my head that if I didn’t walk to the top of the big hill near my house that it didn’t count, and just psyching myself up to climb the hill meant I would probably just give up and not even open the door to my house. So, if I could do that over again, I would give myself points just for going out to the end of the walkway and back. A few dozen steps, even if I don’t put on my shoes and it lasts less than thirty seconds? That’s totally a walk! And it won’t be like that forever!
So now, as much as I really, really want to try and get through this massive pile of things by the end of TODAY, I will try to be more present in reality. I think that’s also part of acceptance and DBT. It’s the opposite of the time distortion that is part of my annoying little dissociation habit, which I will also talk more about later. The point is, instead of believing I can get fifteen things done in an hour through magic or whatever, I’ll really think about how long something takes to do. Make sure I’ve got time for breaks, and acount for the fact that I might get too tired partway through to continue, or there might be an external emergency or internal crisis that I simply cannot plan for. In other words: Take. It. SLOW. If I’m chomping at the bit, believing I can do more, I know it’s working. I won’t let myself increase my rate of metaphorical spending until I’ve actually gotten through the current tasks and goals. Not letting my ADHD run away with me and pull me into fifteen different directions until I really feel like I’m on solid ground with the current pace. Paying things off, growing my reserves, and having some left over for fun!
I’m in the beta stages of this new philosophy, though I have tried it before. The main barrier has been becoming impatient, either with my own frailty or because some sort of deadline is coming up, or I’m afraid of losing something. But, as much as I hate it (story of my life), I’m already at a sort of rock bottom. I’ve lost my job, my dignity, my reputation in my community, and my child, which were the things that were making me feel the most desperate to get this recovery business over with already. I don’t really have too many more people to impress or anyone depending on me. I do still have a few things I could lose, like my home or my various volunteer commitments and projects, but I’m at the place where it’s possible I could use them as part of my recovery and as motivation.
The main thing that helps me is prayer. God is not only there to help manage the external factors that contribute to my distress, but he also helps me with the internal factors that make it difficult to deal with anything. If ever you see me out and about, talking to myself, cursing a blue streak under my breath, rolling my eyes and groaning, it’s probably because God and I are having a back and forth and He’s helping me through something. I’m not crazy, I’m just praying.
Right now, I’m in an okay place. I’ve been emerging over the last few days, and I was able to get out and about and finish these articles, which as you can guess started out as one but got way too long. I’m not going to believe that I’m healed or cured, because God, I’ve got a lot of cleanup, rebuilding, and reshuffling to do. But I’m also going to take things a day at a time and find enjoyment and rest where I can. Pushing myself a little when I get home from something and just want to sit or lay down and think I’m done. I had another entry I really wanted to write, but this one ended up taking way, way longer than I thought, so I’m going to trust that God will give me the words when I do sit down to write that one, and I’m going to move on to the next few things on my list. I’m going to give myself an hour or so to bang through a few things, then I’m going to go home, rest, try to eat something, and then get ready for the worship team performance tonight that I’ve been excited about/dreading for weeks. I’m not going to protaskinate by getting fixated on my to-do-list to avoid preparing for this stressful event. Since I’ve sort of recovered from a pretty serious somatization illness this morning, I’m going to keep my commitment and go, even if it’s going to be very, very hard. Then, when I’m done, I’m going to let myself do whatever I want until it’s time to put in the effort to execute at least some of my sleep hygiene routine. For me, sleep is where the biggest investments gains can be had, and where the biggest struggle occurs. What about you? How do you think you can divide up your emotional between spending on activities that use your energy, investing into activities that build your energy, and resting to save your energy while time grows your investment? What are some metaphors that help you process what’s going on in your body and mind?
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13