Celebrate Small Wins

I just read a short but valuable article on the TED blog, titled “How to make your small wins work for you”. What Mehrnaz Bassiri says in these couple of paragraphs is so true:

“The problem, says Bassiri, doesn’t lie in the puniness of our accomplishments but in the outsized nature of our expectations. Whether in the news media or in our friends’ and family members’ social media posts, we’ve gotten habituated to seeing major successes — the video from an unknown musician that goes viral and scores them a spot on Beyonce’s tour, the unhealthy person who loses half their body weight and completes the Ironman, the company started by college students in a garage that gets sold for an eye-watering amount.

These stories “have programmed our thoughts and desires to want and expect the same kind of results in our own lives,” says Bassiri. “We’ve started to measure our progress on an oversized scale.” So instead of recognizing our small triumphs for what they are, we view them as failures.”

If we set goals for ourselves, instead of only recognizing our progress when crossing a specific point, or after a major “win” (which sometimes feels like it will never come), we should rather celebrate the small milestones we make along the way. Because it’s those small milestones or steps toward our goals or dreams that take us closer to them.

I’m most certainly one of those with super high expectations of myself, and get discouraged quickly and easily if I don’t see any major progress in a goal, project or  change I want to make. I become blind to the small bits of progress I do make, because it’s just “not good enough”, or “it doesn’t count”. But it is good enough. It does count. And I’m going to take note of all my smalls wins, as the article suggests.

I highly recommend giving this a read:
https://ideas.ted.com/how-to-make-your-small-wins-work-for-you/

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Small Steps Towards Healthy Boundaries

Today was a good day. I managed to do a few things that I wanted to, and my mood has been relatively stable. I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t depressed or sad. Not empty either. Just normal. I can’t remember ever feeling like this. Perhaps the mood stabilizer is finally working. Whatever it is, after the depression that has been hanging around for the past month or so, this is a welcome relief. And I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

In my New Year post, I mentioned my goals for 2017. And today I’ve been thinking about my goal of setting healthy boundaries.

Boundaries have always been hard for me. I didn’t realize just how much, until I started therapy. At first, the boundaries in the therapeutic relationship made me feel hurt, angry and confused. But through the months, I’ve found that they provide me with a sense of safety and structure. My therapist knows I can cope with my emotions, and that I can deal with things that come up in my life. Hell, I’ve gotten through 32 years without her. Through some of the worst and most traumatic moments of my life, with little or no support. So I don’t need her to constantly be there for me. Besides, If I start to rely on her all the time, I’ll eventually stop putting in the effort of caring for myself. That being said, I still sometimes get annoyed with the boundaries, but those moments are few and far between. So this is an example of me needing to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. Which I’ve become quite good at. It’s not perfect, but still a big improvement.

Then there are my personal boundaries. And this is where I struggle the most. I’ve been trying to become aware of my limits. What makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m still in the learning stage. But we have to start somewhere right? I need to start putting myself first more often. One of my current problems is discovering a boundary I need to set, but then being unable to fully implement it. I feel bad and guilty about having that boundary up. If someone pushes a little, I cave. But I can’t expect myself to become perfect at setting and sticking to them overnight. So I’m not going to be too hard on myself.

I came across this inspiring Ted talk today. It was just what I needed to hear.

Hello 2017

It’s here. A brand new year. And with it, a fresh start?

I’d like to believe so. With the new year came a pleasant surprise. My therapist sent me a text wishing me a happy new year. She had sent me two texts during the therapy break as well. She didn’t have to do this and I wasn’t expecting it. So that makes it extra special. Thank you (Therapist).

I’ve never really been a fan of new year resolutions. People are so eager and excited about them for the first few weeks. But then it all just goes to hell, and we end up feeling like failures.

So this year, instead of making the usual types of resolutions, I’m going to do it a little differently.

What do I mean by “the usual types”? It looks like this:
This many hours of exercise a day/week.
Read this many books by the end of the year.
Etc…

Many of these resolutions seem too ambitious to maintain consistently. If you’re one of the lucky few who can do this, all the more power to you. I admire you.

Here are my goals for 2017:

– Work on building (and maintaining) healthy boundaries.
– Work hard in therapy.
– Work on my book.
– Get a job. Taking mental health days when I really need them.
– Explore more of this amazing city I live in.
– Take more photographs and improve my skills in this area.
– More self-care, and putting myself first more often.
– Continue studying Psychology in my own time.

I won’t always get these right or do them consistently. But I’m not going to look at it as failures, since I didn’t commit to reaching these milestones in a specific timeframe. And it’s a work in progress. In my case, pressure leads to procrastination, overwhelm and frustration. Which then leads to self-hatred. So I’m going to be gentle on myself, with a little push now and then.

Happy (and hopeful) New Year everyone. We survived, we made it through 2016. We’re warriors. I hope this year will be better than all the others that have passed. I believe in each and every one of you.

happy-new-year

Making Progress Even When You Can’t See It

A few sessions ago, I told my therapist that I finally felt like I was making progress. That therapy is finally helping me. She jokingly asked me if I was saying that therapy hasn’t helped me before that? I told her that the seeds had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been aware of the growth until now.

Often, we don’t see the progress we have made. Hell, we may even feel like we’re just moving backward. And sometimes that’s the truth. We take a step forward, only to move two steps back. But that’s okay. That’s the thing with mental illness. There are no quick fixes. The road to recovery isn’t straight and easy. It takes a lot of work, and there will be relapses and set backs. It’s completely normal, even though it can be extremely frustrating.

When I do something different to how I would have done it in the past, Therapist will point it out and tell me to look at the growth I’ve made, and how far I’ve come. Most of the time I don’t even see what’s right in front of me, due to the negative way I tend to see myself. Other times when she points these things out to me, it fills me with a sense of pride. Because at that moment, I can see it. All the little things I do differently. All the ways in which I have improved. They’re there. I just need to open up my eyes.

If you feel like you’re not making any progress, take a look back, and you might be surprised to find that you have indeed made progress. Small steps in the right direction. When I’m in crisis, and I feel I’m getting worse or therapy isn’t working, and I just want to give up, I like using the DBT skills from the Distress Tolerance (Crisis Survival Skills) module. The Distract Skill, which is broken down into ACCEPTS as follows:

Activities – Find an activity you can get lost in.
Contribute – Help someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare – Compare your past self with your present self.
Emotions – Try to find a way to switch into a different emotion. Through music for example.
Pushing Away – If you can’t solve a problem right then and there, pick that problem up and imagine putting it into a box. Place it on a shelf until you’re in a better space to deal with it.
Thoughts – Name things around you. Or breathe in a word, and choose another word for the out breath.
Sensations – An ice cold shower, or lying on cold tiles seems to do the trick for me. Or if it’s raining, I stand in the rain until I’m shivering. Eat or drink something bitter or sweet. Anything that engages one or more of your senses is helpful.

I use the ‘Compare’ part quite often now. Looking at my past self, and comparing that to how I am now. It’s a very good way to see the little bits of progress I have made. It helps get me out of that crisis state, and into what Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) calls Wise Mind. Writing down all the improvements. It’s not easy in those moments of intensity, in the midst of the emotional storm, but once started, and written down, I usually find that storm start to slowly die down a little. Because then my mind is engaged in the current task. A positive task. Something that isn’t harming me.

Just as a side note. Using these skills in the heat of an emotional storm is difficult. Mostly because you won’t always remember them. At least that’s the case with me. So it’s important to write these skills down, along with a list of what you feel would help you in each of those ‘catagories’ during these difficult moments.

Right now, I’m treating myself to a delicious, creamy mug of hot chocolate to celebrate the ways in which I have grown over these past few months. It’s my special treat for a job well done. And even though I still have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the little steps I have already made.

So go on and treat yourself to something you enjoy, or that warms your heart. You deserve it.

A Wasted Life. Begin Again.

I’ve always said that I don’t regret anything, because I learned from everything. But lately, I’ve been feeling a little bit differently towards that. For the first time in my life, I feel angry about some of the things that happened to me. But mostly, I feel angry at myself for some of the choices I made.

I’ve been so triggered lately by people who are busy studying Psychology, or just started their new jobs as therapists. I always love hearing their stories, their progress, and experiences. But lately I just haven’t been able to deal with it. I keep thinking “that could have been me as well”. But it’s not. They’re all so young, and I’m already in my early 30’s, so I’ve already wasted so much time. It’s going to take me longer to complete my studies, because I’ll have to do it via distance learning, so I can still have a full time job to afford it. So what would have taken me 3 years to complete (Degree), will now take me 5-6 years.

Those who have followed my blog from the beginning, and have read some of my previous posts, will know that I’ve always wanted to become a psychologist. That’s always been my dream. My dream, not something I ‘borrowed’ from someone else, like so many other things.

I went for an interview last week, and was told today that I got the job and that I start on the 1st of September. The best news I’ve had all year. I’m so happy and grateful. Granted, it’s not a job that I want to do for the rest of my life, but it’s a means to an end. Until I can qualify as a psychologist. I’ll have to do my Honours and get into a Masters program before I can practice as a Clinical Psychologist, so it’s still going to take much more than 5-6 years. But I’m going to do it. It’s never too late, right?

For a while now I didn’t feel like I have a future. I still feel like that, but I’m forcing myself to just focus on my goal. I have a dream. And that should keep me going. Even if I die before I get to reach the end goal, the journey would have been worth it.

One thought keeps playing over and over in my head like a broken record. Stuck on repeat.

I’ve wasted my life.

Everything turned out so wrong.

I can’t go back in time. I can’t change things. I’m an expert at saying to others, and to myself “at least we learn from our mistakes and all the bad things that happen to, and around us, and can use it to do good things”, but for the past couple of years, those words just made me angry. “Shut the fuck up. You’re such a fuck up.”

Who can I blame? Can I blame my ‘dad’ and certain other people who are no longer a part of my life and family? Oh yes, I can. But also, not really. Because the truth is, I only have myself to blame. I could have left, instead of staying. But no, I had to play the damn protector and worry about his well-being, even though it isn’t my responsibility. I had two opportunities to walk away, to start my own life, but I blew it. I chose to stay. I had a responsibility towards myself, but I allowed myself to think that he was my responsibility.

No more. I’m done playing parent to a grown man. I don’t have to do that anymore. He can take care of his own shit.

My biggest mistake was moving back in with him and the new stepmom and step siblings, but at the time (a few months ago), it was my only option. I got out of a toxic relationship, moved to a new city, was broke and had no job. But I can also see it as a good thing. It led me to today. I got a good job, and I can move out next year. Hopefully before the middle of the year. I just need to get through the 3 month probation period, but I’m going to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. I want to make sure that I’ll keep this job. I’m scared and nervous, but I’m also excited.

I had a really great therapy session today (hard and painful at times), and discussed all the things that had bothered me in our previous session (as I wrote about in a previous post). I love how honest I can be with my therapist about things she may have said or done that bothered or hurt me and we get to clear it up. She apologized, even though she didn’t really need to, and told me that she never means to hurt me, or make me feel like she’s judging me. I believe that with all my heart. I told her about how I don’t need tough love, I need a gentle touch, and she even thanked me for telling her that. Now she knows. I wasn’t expecting that response (even though I should know her better by now). I thought she would argue with me, or tell me that I’m wrong. But she totally took in on board, and I felt really heard.

So it’s been a really good day. And heaven knows I needed a good day after all the shitty ones I’ve been having. I’m so grateful.

So I might have wasted the earliest part of my life, but now is my opportunity for a fresh start, and I’m going to take it. I don’t want to regret anything ever again.

 

Quit Or Stay The Course?

I’m studying something that I don’t enjoy. I’ve been studying this subject for the past 3 years, and I’ve had enough. In the beginning I fooled myself into believing I enjoy it. All because my ex was in the field, and she, along with my parents, convinced me that it was a good idea. I don’t blame them though, as it was my choice and I wanted to do it because I believed it was what I wanted too.

I’m writing my final exam next month, and I’m so behind, and desperately trying to catch up, so I can pass and finally put it behind me. I was considering just quitting now already.

There’s a chapter in a book I read, Coping with BPD on quitting work or school that I found particularly helpful. One of the suggestions is to review your long term goals. So mine would be to finish this part of the course so I can get my certificate and get a good job. It’s a means to an end, and if I just quit now, it won’t be consistent with that goal. I want to study Psychology, as it’s the one thing I’ve always found fascinating. The one thing I know is all mine… I’ve always wanted to pursue this field. If I can get a good job, I can start my journey down that path, doing my degree via correspondence, and finally fulfill that dream.

The other thing they suggested is to make a pros and cons list, which is a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill. This is what my list looks like:

myproscons

I hate failing. And the thought that it’s a possibility for next month’s exam, is one of the things causing me to panic. But that panic is soothed a little when I tell myself that even if I do fail, at least I would have tried, and I have another chance to rewrite in November. I have to think about it this way, as it helps me to focus. Whereas the panic state diminishes my ability to focus and retain information. I heard a saying the other day:

“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters – 204 if you’re in Japan.”
― Claire Cook

So, I have decided to stay the course. Not for anyone else, but for me. I deserve to feel good about myself.