Goals for the Next 30 Days: Lose 8 Pounds

Did You Wash Your SocksI knew when I wrote that goal down that it was pretty unrealistic, but I’m more interested in the process than the final result.  To that end, I’m taking a lot of positive, healthy, nurturing steps in the right direction.

Before I went into partial hospitalization, I volunteered to be the Weight Recorder for my TOPS chapter.  There’s not a lot of structure to TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), but we do have to weigh in every week.  At the time, I thought being the Weight Recorder might keep me involved with the group and make me more accountable.  What I didn’t foresee was how much fun it would be.  I love the woman who is the Assistant Weight Recorder—she has an infectious laugh and a practical, no-nonsense nature.  We’re easy together and create a supportive atmosphere for what can sometimes be a painful part of the meeting.  We focus on the positive, ask questions that might help our members make small adjustments to their plans, and do lots of cheering and hugging.  Positive juju begets more of the same.  It also keeps weight loss in the front of my brain.

lose itI also started using the Lose It site.  Keeping a food journal helps me lose weight, and doing it online is fast and easy.  I can also keep track of my exercise there.  Lose It lets me calculate the amount of weight I want to lose each week and provides a daily calorie budget.  I can set goals and join all kinds of challenges.  I’m doing four of those right now—Log in all 30 days in June, Lose 3 pounds in June, Log in how many minutes I meditate over the summer, and Stay at or under my calorie budget for the summer.  I find the challenges to be fun and motivating, but even more so with all the “Friends” there.  It’s a real social activity—people sharing their successes and struggles, passing along tips and what works for them.  And, again, there’s lots of cheerleading and support.  Another very happy place.

diana-nyad-670The challenges on Lose It have also helped me step up my exercise.  I’m at the Y seven days a week now—six in the pool and Sundays on the recumbent bike and track. This week I’m trying to add in an afternoon walk as well, though dry land isn’t as kind to my feet and back.  I figure I need to get ready for all the walking I’ll do in England!

Of course, the biggest obstacle to losing weight is my compulsive eating.  Last week I could feel the anxiety building and knew I would binge, so I tried to stay as aware as I could.  Was there a way I could minimize the damage?  Allow the release that eating brings without blowing up my calorie budget?  I hit on a great compromise—a sackful of raw veggies and a bottle of lite Ranch dressing.  I ate a big bowl of colorful, delicious, healthy food and was satisfied.  That, my friends, rarely happens.

With all of these wonderful tools and methods of support, I’m making better choices and moving in a healthier direction.   I feel stronger and, even more important, more in control.  The counselors at the hospital had a saying—Don’t be a victim of your brain.  Make it work for you.  I try to hold those words as I work on all my discharge goals, but even more so with my weight loss efforts.  I doubt I’ll make my original goal of losing 8 pounds this month.  But I will make my Lose It goal of 3 pounds.  That feels like success—for me and my brain.

It’s Been a Week

Emmett Coned

I believe Emmett speaks for all of us here at the apartment.

May your own cone rest easy this weekend.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Work on My Bucket List

Bucket List

One of the exercises Dan, my counselor in partial hospitalization, gave me was to write my Bucket List.  It was supposed to be 100 items long, but mine was only 8.  I promised him I’d keep adding to it, but these were the things that meant the most to me.

  1. I want a new, preferably hybrid, Smart Car.
  2. I want to move to the Southwest.
  3. I want to spend at least 3 months in the United Kingdom.
  4. I want to work as a Peer and get paid what I’m worth.
  5. I want to travel to meet my blog friends in person.
  6. I want to have sex with a decent man once more before I die.
  7. I want to finish Technical Consultant and get it published.
  8. I want to lose 100 pounds.

When I gave Dan my list, he asked why I hadn’t done these things yet.  We talked about obstacles.  We talked about breaking each item into tiny steps.  We talked about opening up to the possibility of getting what I want.

It’s a powerful exercise.  Mental illness can make a person collapse in on oneself.  We fall down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and cringe in the basement.  It takes some work and a little courage to rise up and open out.

The Crucible PosterOne day after being discharged, I was trolling my Pinterest feed and saw a notice that made me moan.  Richard Armitage  (he of The Hobbit fame and inspiration for my novel) would be playing John Proctor in a new stage production of The Crucible at the Old Vic Theater in London.  My initial thought was, “Oh, man!  I’m on the wrong continent.”  Then, I heard Dan’s voice in the back of my head.  Is it possible?

I actually started to consider it.  My Visa debt was almost paid off.  I learned how to do that.  I could do it again.

So, I dug in my closet for my old passport.  I sat there staring at it a long time, then I emailed my blog friend, Evelyn, who lives an hour west of London in Newbury.

What do you think?  I asked her.  Am I crazy?

Her answer was an itinerary of all the things we’d do if I came to see her.

Earl's Court StationIt’s been a little over a week since that email exchange.  I’ve sent in my passport renewal.  I’ve booked my flights and hotel (a sweet-looking B&B in Kensington around the corner from Earl’s Court Tube station).  I’ve purchased my Crucible ticket (The Old Vic is in the round, and I’m front row left.  I figured if I’m flying to London to see Richard on stage, I’m damn well going to see the blues of his eyes).  And my prepaid Oyster card came Fed Ex today.

It will be a short trip—arriving in London on September 2 and leaving on September 4—but I’m thinking of this as my first trip to the UK.  I want to see Richard and Evelyn.  I want to learn how to use the Tube system and how to take the overland train out of London to find my friend in another city.  I want to be able to pay for something with British coins and not fumble around.  That will be enough this time.  Oh, that will be just fine.

Everyone I’ve talked to has been joyfully supportive—from my therapist, who wanted me to stay longer, to my mom, who giggled when I told her.  Evelyn sends me regular brainstorms.

And as I pour over Google maps, I send Gratitude to Dan for posing the question.

Is it possible?

Needless to say, I’m on an Adventure.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Maintain New Behaviors

BBs on the LooseChange is a bitch.  Pardon my French.

We all have default settings, the status quo our minds and bodies roll into when we look the other way.  We’re like bee-bees, really, rattling around until we find that dent in the floor where we can rest.  Most of the time our dent consists of what’s easiest, cheapest and safest.  We’re all about comfort here in the pothole.

Confess.  We can all think of a change we’d like to make that would make us healthier, happier, more efficient… the list goes on and on.  We may even work at those changes, but damn, it’s hard.  We’re fighting against gravity and inertia.  We’re trying to jump out of the pothole.  But, if we persist, we may nudge ourselves in a new direction.  If our bee-bee jumps up and down in a new spot long enough, it will make a new dent.

That’s what I’m trying to do with my Post-Hospital behavior.  When I get brain-sick, I slide into the oldest dent on my floor.  My default settings may feel safe and easy, but they really hurt me.  I’m just trying to jump up and down in this new place every day until I can carve out a new resting place.  Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. Limit Screen Time to 2 hours a day
  2. Plan more Activities Outside
  3. Practice Mindfulness Meditation daily
  4. Create a Cleaning Schedule

I’ve come to understand that Distraction is not necessarily the best way to manage my illness.  It is a standard method, widely accepted, and valuable when symptoms are so severe a person cannot tolerate living.  Getting busy doing something else gives the mind another focus.  It may not change the feelings, but offers a little break.  Sometimes that’s all we need.

But, when distractioYesn becomes the default setting, nothing else gets done.  That’s the story between me and my computer.  I can spend hours here (I’m sure I’m not alone in this).  I watch movies on it.  I listen to music through it. I blog and graze Pinterest.  I play neuro games on Lumosity.  Oh, I could live here.

And that’s the problem.  When I’m brain-sick, I do live here.  So, I’m weaning myself.  More writing off-line.  More interaction with real-time people.  More living on this side of the screen.

I’m also trying to get outside more now that the weather is fine.  It seems that winter sets me up for a tumble, or has the last couple of years, so I need to learn how to get more sunlight.  I’ll soak up what I can now and buy a full-spectrum light for the coming winter.  Maybe that will help keep me out of the hospital next spring.  For now, I’ve found a great trail that passes through some trees.  I haven’t gone there yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.

Tara Brach's CDMeditation has always been a cornerstone of my wellness.  I know it works.  But, even after all this time, it’s still not my default setting.  I still find it hard to meditate alone and put it off.  So, I got myself some lovely CDs and use them as I meditate.  That makes it so much easier—less effort required to jump out of that bee-bee dent.  I’m still not meditating every day, but I’m doing better.  That’s the important part.

My Pal SwifferCleaning is another practice that disappears when I’m ill.  It’s one of those things I absolutely cannot make myself do.  When I first started the hospital program, we broke that task down into the tiniest possible fragments.  One day, I was only required to dust one shelf on one bookcase.  I came home from the hospital that day and told myself I couldn’t have supper until I dusted that shelf.  It took herculean effort to get out the duster, but once I broke through the inertia, I was able to dust the whole bookcase.  But the next day (dust the night stand), the resistance was just as strong.  My little bee-bee had rolled back into its divot.

I’d like to make cleaning a habit, so I include it as part of my daily tasks.  Today I will mop my kitchen floor.  That’s all.  That’s enough.  But, it still will take effort to get done.  That’s okay.  I figure I’m building mental muscle with these practices—cleaning, meditation, getting outside, and turning off the computer.  If I’m buff enough, maybe I can jump out of my safety dent for longer periods of time and start carving out a new place to rest.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Continue to Function at 9-10

Epic Journeys

When it comes to functioning on a scale of 1-10, I’ve generally rated high.  But, there are days.

Function measures how a person gets daily tasks accomplished like getting out of bed, taking a shower, tackling chores.  General consensus of the treatment staff is that if a person is a 4 or under, they probably need to be admitted to the hospital.  Here’s what I’m doing to keep my Function score high.

  1. Attend the After-Care support group for one month.
  2. Schedule weekly appointments with my therapist
  3. Continue Daily Planning
  4. Monitor for symptoms of Lapse and put Step-up Plan in place

The After-Care group is an extension of what we did every day at the hospital.  It’s a combination of checking in and being held accountable.  There’s also a deep and unique understanding between peers.  We know the pain and the faulty thinking.  We know when to challenge someone and when to soothe.  There’s nothing like being with folks who “get it.”  But since this group is an hour away, I only committed to attending for four weeks.  Gas money only stretches so far, and I won’t dig myself into debt that way again.  I’m hoping for other options by the time July rolls around.

Weekly sessions with Megan, my therapist, is a no-brainer.  She goes on maternity leave soon, but carefully matched her cases to other therapists in the clinic to minimize our trauma.  I’m constantly amazed by her level of professionalism and the great respect she affords us.  I’ll miss her, but that won’t stop me from utilizing her sub.

Daily PlanIn treatment, we made planning an art form.  Self-monitoring, setting small goals, and marking successes kept us moving forward.  It’s easy to lose track of what’s important.  I took the sheet we filled out every day, customized it for my needs, then took it to my copy shop where they made a tear-off pad that I can carry in my writing bag.  In the morning, I rip off a page, quickly fill it out, and tape it in my journal.  This way I can see my progress and where I need to concentrate my efforts.  By keeping my daily plan, I was able to recognize the depression sooner when it came back this week and watch to see if it would turn into a lapse.  With that criteria on my daily plan, I didn’t need to guess or stew about it.  And if I lapsed, I had my Step-up plan taped to my Mind Palace, ready to be put in place.  This time the mood shifted and I didn’t need the extra measures.  It was good practice, because I will need them sometimes.Step-up Plan

Even for a planner like me, this new level of self-monitoring feels gnat’s ass-obsessive sometimes.  But, I can see how much it helps.  I can feel it.  And that’s all that matters.

The Plan

All Figured Out

To be discharged from partial hospitalization, I had to create an After-Care Plan.  I like plans.  My journals are full of them.  The structure is comforting—the act of numbering and creating a tidy list, all that lovely white space around simple steps.  It brings the chaos to heel.  Here’s my Plan as approved by the professionals.

Assessed Needs

  1. Improve Tolerance to Distress
  2. Monitor for Lapse Symptoms and Put Emergency Plan into Action
  3. Improve Confidence and Self-Talk

Strengths

  1. Insight, Experience, Commitment to Wellness, Creativity, Intelligence, Willingness
  2. Supportive Therapist, Supportive Friends and Family, Basic Needs are Met

Obstacles

  1. Fear of Failure, Negative/Distorted Thinking, Ongoing Rapid Cycling
  2. Support System needs Repair, Limited Resources

Goals for the First 30 Days

  1. Continue to Function at a 9-10 (on a 1-10 scale)
  2. Maintain New Behaviors
  3. Spend More Time with Friends in Play
  4. Work on My Bucket List
  5. Lose 8 Pounds
  6. Finish First Draft of Technical Consultant

Keeping my Plan in the front of my brain will help me stay on track, so I’ll spend some time here posting about my goals—the Action Steps for each one and how I’m succeeding at them.  Five days out of treatment and I can feel how much work this will be.  How much work it already is.  But, it’s a good kind of work, like a big sweat from hard manual labor.  The body finds a rhythm.  The muscles and bones do what they were created to do.  The mind steps back.

And the harder I work, the sooner these new behaviors will become habit.  But, until then it’s a grunt and takes constant reminding about why I’m doing all this.  Living better, feeling better, remembering who I am.  That’s The Plan.

30 Day Forecast

Start BoldlyWednesday was my last day in partial hospitalization.  It was a surprise.  I went to the scheduled appointment with my counselor to talk about my progress and the work I’d been doing on my discharge plan.  When I asked him when he thought I might be ready to leave the program, he said, “I’m thinking today.”  I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and said, “Okay.”

Because I know recovery isn’t about feeling perfect or feeling done.  It’s about practicing new behaviors in spite of how I feel.  It’s about The Work.

Every morning in the group, we filled out a plan for the day.  It included things like errands and chores, what we planned for exercise and relaxation.  We kept track of our sleep patterns, listed things we were grateful for that day, and our successes.  But at the top of the page, we rated how we were functioning.  On a scale of 1-10, we noted how well we were able to perform our daily tasks, not how we felt.  That distinction was important.  Emotions, moods, and thoughts changing like the weather can make a person feel dysfunctional.  Noting objectively that we got out of bed, ate breakfast and washed the dishes, drove to group, and made plans to see a friend afterward proves that we can still operate in the world even if we don’t feel like it in the moment.  What we do matters.

And while I feel much more stable emotionally, it’s a high pressure system that comes and goes.  The practices I put into place and actually perform every day will help me weather what comes next.  And next.  And next.

And there’s a lot of Work to do.  It’s mostly planning and monitoring, but it’s also reinventing myself as a social creature.  I’ve written here about my tendency toward isolation, my resistance and anxieties where other people are concerned.  So, I’m trying something different.  I’m attempting to let go of my old notions of Support Systems, Intimacy, and Soul-Matedness, and simply ask people to Play with me.  I plan something I want to do (like see the new X-Men movie or go for a walk) and just invite others to join me.  No huge expectation.  No smoldering resentment or disappointment.  Just play.  And it’s amazing to me how easy this is.  Simple.  For a mind that complicates and twists on a regular basis, simple is good.  Real good.

As part of my discharge planning, I have a list of goals for the next 30 days.  These will determine the nature of my practice for now.  And they will also help me make these changes into habits that, hopefully, will carry into whatever weather the future holds.

It’s up to me.

It always is.

I’m on an Adventure.

Adding to to the Bad-Ass Arsenal

Xena 6Today is the end of the four-day week for those of us in treatment.  That means there’s a long, four-day weekend ahead of us with Memorial Day tagged on the end of it.  To get from this side of the holiday weekend to the other requires planning, setting goals for each day, getting out of the apartment, spending time with friends, tending to chores.  A structured mind is a tidy mind.

A couple of Ah-Ha moments this week.  My regular therapist, Megan, and I have been working on Mindfulness practices for several months, but one of the homework modules from treatment put that work in a different light.  It talked about developing a stronger tolerance to emotional distress.  We can’t stop the feelings and moods, but we can become more tolerant of them with practice.  Mindfulness is a way to do that.  The teaching material called it “doing the opposite” of what we habitually do in times of distress.  Most people try to escape the emotional pain, numb it, distract oneself from it.  The opposite of that knee-jerk reaction is to accept the current distress.  Sit with it.  Use meditation, journaling and other methods to pay attention to it and watch how it might shift.

The homework assignments my counselor in treatment have given me come from the Centre for Clinical Intervention, a wonderful Australian website where workbook-type modules on all areas of mental health are available for free.   What a wonderful service!  Those Aussies have the right idea.

The other Ah-Ha moment came with a suggestion in group.  I’ve always maintained a one-size-fits-all management plan for my illness, but it was put to me that I need a different plan when I’m suffering a lapse.  A lapse is when symptoms reappear, but haven’t dragged a person into a long bout that effects functioning in the world.  As someone with the rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder,  I considered myself symptomatic most of the time.  But, I can see now that there are symptoms and there are SYMPTOMS.  There are signs when my “normal” cycling shifts to a lapse—depression that lasts longer than three days, change in sleep quality, etc.  Like an early warning tornado siren, I can watch for the signs of a lapse and put my Emergency Step-Up Plan in place.  It gives me more power.  And I do love gathering sharp-edged tools for my Bad-Ass armory.  I added quite a bit to the arsenal this week.

Confession

PJ

Whenever I see that someone in New Zealand visited my blog, I’m sure it was Peter Jackson.

Stepping Up To Recovery

DestinyAhh.  There’s nothing like two weeks in the hospital to perk a person up.

As always, the experience of partial hospitalization is a combination of learning and acceptance.  Because the program has changed so much, the learning curve is a little different this time.  Mercy Hospital merged their Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse programs.  Theoretically, this makes complete sense.  Most folks with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the symptoms and escape from their emotional pain.  Treating both at the same time rounds up all the demons in one pen.

But, I’m one of the lucky few who’s only hooked on second helpings and Cheetos.  As I told my counselor at Mercy, “I understand the whole 12 Step shtick.  It’s a gateway to doing the inner work we all need to do.  It’s not my gateway, but I can respect it.”

So, I’m learning a lot about addiction, resistance, and willfulness.  I’m appreciating my life in comparison to folks who have faced a Rock Bottom a bit rockier than mine.  I admire these fierce, ruthless addicts in their fight to be free and clean.  I’ve made more personal connections this time around than ever before, because… well… I’m one of them.  Badasses tend to recognize one another.

And, again, I see a bit more clearly that I’m meant to do this work.  Once the depression started to lift, I found myself able to listen closely and catch signals of distress and/or bullshit.  Again, I found the staff remarking on those skills and encouraging me to continue.  One counselor said, “I need you working in the adolescent unit.”

I get it now.  I need to do this kind of work.  Not just because I’m good at it, but because it’s the next step in my own recovery.  I’ve been convinced for years that I’d never be able to re-enter the work force.  I’m too vulnerable, too capricious, too broken.  Well, it’s time to give up that belief.

It’s a slow process, changing firmly held beliefs.  Ask any Catholic-turned-Atheist.  Or a Reformed Republican.  We believe what we believe, and we always find evidence to support our beliefs.  So, I’m on the look-out now for different bread crumbs.  I intend to get that Peer Support Specialist job at my mental health clinic.  I’ll follow up next week, as is appropriate.  I’ll ask the counselors at Mercy to write me some recommendations.  If I ever hope to be free, I need to do this.

In the meantime, I’m in treatment for another week or two at the least.  That’s fine.  I still have a lot to learn.

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