06 February 2016 @ 10:34 am
Diary of a Leave, extra  
I got a lot of good advice this week, especially in the form of mantras to use to keep my energies focused in positive ways, and my mind anticipating things in a good way. So I thought I would write them down to both easily find myself, and so that others could take them if they wanted to.

Jan told me yesterday that she wanted me to use mantras differently than I have in meditation in the past. Instead of repeating them in my mind to give myself focus, she wants me to say them out loud, since articulating a thing involves more mental processes than just thinking a thing. She suggested I put little cards around the house with my mantras on them, and every time I saw one I would say it out loud. So a more active mantra-ing than a meditative one.

The mantras I agree upon with Jan:

I am capable
I can handle this

The mantras I got from S's mom:

I am real
I matter
My needs matter
My desires matter

S's mom also gave me what she called "panic mantras," but which are perhaps more accurately called 'reconnecting after dissociating mantras":

I can handle this
It is what it is

And some that were focused on when I'm feeling less than myself:

I will recover
I am recovering
I can recover

S's mom also told me to keep beauty in front of me at every manageable opportunity, and to enjoy lots of "active repose": massage, baths, meditation, sitting under my sun lamp, music, art, writing, and tea. Which is a lot like my self-care list from Jan, which I've pinned to my noticeboard. I am so grateful for these two wonderful women.
05 February 2016 @ 04:39 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Seven  
I went to the gym this morning (hurray for four days of moving!) and then I went to therapy. It was a revelation.

We talked about my going back to work next week, and all the anxieties I have about it. Jan asked me what was the most daunting, and I said that it wasn't going back to the place, or to my office, or even doing things I could do on my own - it was when I contemplated being responsible for other people that I felt overwhelmed and incapable. Give me an example, she said. I started with "Well, I'm responsible for . . . . " and then stopped. The example I'd been about to give was when I'm in charge of people who are still learning things, but it occurred to me that I'm not responsible for their learning. They are. So I expressed that. Jan smiled and said, okay, where else are you responsible for other people? And I ran through my list, and in every instance I'm not actually responsible for other people's progress, learning, ability to handle things etc. They are. It's like discovering the other side of the "you do you" coin - I'll do me. I'm responsible for myself, for making sure I'm doing what I should, for taking care of this body and mind, and everyone else is also responsible for that in themselves. That doesn't mean we don't support and encourage each other, it just means that it's not my job to fix things for people, or take on the responsibility they have to shoulder for moving forward in some way.

This lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I could immediately think of half a dozen situations where if I'm responsible for me, I'll say no to someone's ask. I am not responsible for making a whole project sink or swim. And if I say no to something, what's the worst that can happen? We spent a lot of time today talking about realistic worst case scenarios - not catastrophizing everything, but saying, what will really happen if I don't do X or Y? Again, this was all news to me. My mind tends to run to catastrophe, and I hadn't thought to reason with myself and examine that train of thought more clearly.

Jan said I seemed a lot calmer and peaceful today, and I told her that was true. I feel like I've had several shifts of thought that are going to make things easier for me. And I've learned a whole new set of ways to take good care of myself and prioritize myself, and that's invaluable.

I came home and found myself locked out (I live in a town where you can leave the doors open, but my cleaning lady had come and locked up as she left). After running all over town to find a friend with a key, I finally got inside and discovered a BEAUTIFUL OASIS OF CLEANNESS. There are some odd things, like four of six chairs in the dining room being pushed up against the wall, and my cleaning lady doesn't have a good eye for where photos in frames or decorative items were before she dusted them, but eh, that is a very quick and easy fix. And it is so liberating to have the whole house clean, top to bottom, at the same time, and before a weekend no less - a weekend where usually I'd be trying to chase down dust bunnies, and get in time to myself, and work.

Tonight it's my friend B's birthday, so we're going to dinner and then to see Hail Caesar, in which my friend C has a small but important part. So fun! And then I will likely duck out while the rest of them go get beer, so that I can fall into my floofy bed and sleep soundly until tomorrow. Yay.
04 February 2016 @ 07:55 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Six  
I slept like a champ last night, and slept in a little this morning, and it felt so delightful. And then I went to the 10am yoga class, where there were two seniors, one of whom was injured, and one other person with an injury, too. Ends up that is totally my speed. We moved slowly, we held positions for a long time while the teacher talked us through little adjustments, and I left feeling loose inside and out.

This afternoon I went and had my colors done, and I take back my suspicion of the process and mocking of the idea. All but my face were greyed out - a grey cap on my head so my hair wasn't visibe, a grey smock covered my body - and then my friend S draped me with big swathes of fabric. She'd do two at a time so that we could compare which was the better of the two, and it was absolutely undeniable that some of the colors made me look lively and pretty and some made me look yellow, or green, or ill, (or all three). I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but it was fascinating to watch. It took us about two hours, and it turned out I am a Bright Winter, which means lots of saturated jewel tones - greens, purples, pinks, reds. The only color not on my palette that I like to wear is orange, and I got confirmation of my sense that I can't wear cream or beige, they just wash me out. S did my make up at the end, and put me in bright pink lipstick, which I have never worn in my life. But it looked so good! A very fun and enlightening afternoon.

I met G for coffee after that, and that was low key and fun, but my gosh, I was spent afterwards. So now I'm glad to be flopped on my couch, watching Top Chef, drinking a glass of wine, with a nice little fire going.

Tomorrow, more therapy, and my house will be cleaned while I'm gone! I'm so excited.
03 February 2016 @ 03:33 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Five  
I had therapy this morning, and after telling Jan how I felt yesterday she had two things to say: 1) your friends (i.e. all of you) are very smart, and 2) let's just do talk therapy today, no EMDR. The latter came as a complete surprise to me, because my previous therapist's approach was to Do The Thing no matter what had come up, and no matter how I felt about it. Jan simply said, how about we give you a little time to bounce back? Jan wins.

We spent today talking about self-care and positive anticipation. She gave me a list of over a hundred self-care choices, and had me mark those I'd done in the past, as well as those I was willing to try right now. The first thing that surprised me was how many things on the list are already things I do. The second thing that surprised me was that there were things on the list that I've done in the past - splurge; buy clothes - that I don't want to do anymore. Fascinating peek at growth and change, there.

She observed, from my answers, that creativity is central to my definition of who I am, but I'm not creating at the moment. She suggested I pick one of my creative outlets and try something in that arena, because as well as being good self-care, she thinks it might be a breakthrough for me if I can do that. So I picked knitting, after working out for myself that I don't have to do the project a friend gave me first. (Said friend noticed I was knitting a lot for others, so she gave me yarn and a pattern to knit a cowl for myself. But I don't enjoy knitting for myself as much as I like knitting for others, so it's been a mental obstacle to me knitting at all. But of course there is no reason I must make that cowl first. Brains.)

We then talked about positive anticipation - the act of writing scripts about things you're going to do where the outcome is warm, positive, functional etc. As Jan put it, if you only anticipate negatively (which is where I'm at with going back to work next week) you help bring that about by your attitude, body language, and selectively latching onto whatever confirms your bias. So my homework is to write some scripts for myself about going back, and we'll affirm those through EMDR on Friday.

Then this afternoon my friend S's mom came over to do reiki and Akashic Records with me. Now, if you google Akashic Records, you'll come across a host of websites that will likely convince you that the whole practice is a bit bonkers. Adherents believe that there are records of all that we do, feel and experience 'out there' (within an energy source) and that it's possible for people with training to access those records (and the guidance of the record keepers). And S's mom definitely believes in all of that, and it's at the core of her practice. I'm not sure I share her beliefs, but my experience of it was not bonkers - it was a lot like a guided meditation, and whether she was getting messages from the record keepers or was merely incredibly intuitive, she was a big help to me.

Of particular note - she asked me to imagine that I had a core of light, and that that light was my strength, and no one could ever touch that, harm that, or take it away from me. She suggested that when I get triggered, I physically and emotionally recoil, and I lose my balance - I'm off kilter from that core of strength, and what I need to do is return to it. She gave me a series of mantras to repeat to help me do that, and they're very similar to what I already do when I'm dissociating. She assured me that I matter and that I am loved, and there was something about her saying that during the meditation that just made me weep. It was very moving. And she cautioned me against too much empathy - that I needed to learn how to empathize without needing to fix everything, or take on the pain of others as my own. She said this was particularly true at work (and she's right). Also fascinating was the fact that I had told her I had PTSD, but had never told her why. Yet she honed right in on abuse as a problem, and told me that I had done nothing to deserve it, and it was not my job to heal the person who had abused me, so no guilt.

The whole thing was very peaceful, very gentle, and very kind. Whether it was just two people coming together in a spirit of possibility and allowing themselves to be open to those things, or whether it really was the record keepers providing insight, it was important.

I ate a bunch of chocolate afterwards. It seemed appropriate.
02 February 2016 @ 07:39 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Four  
Today has been a struggle. There are lots of potential reasons: EMDR hangover, disturbed sleep, a mix up that had me without birth control pills for two days. All I can tell you is that I've felt really low, and I been at my wits' end trying to think of some way to respond to it.

(Perhaps I'm not supposed to respond to it? Maybe I'm supposed to sit with it? But I keep thinking, I have so few days left. I'm supposed to be healing.)

I went to my hair appointment, and it was nice to be pampered. After lunch I roused myself to go to the gym and I walked 1.5 miles, which did raise my spirits some. I texted my friend T and asked her if she'd like to come over for tea, and she did. And yet I still feel low.

I'm hoping a good night's sleep will help, and if it doesn't, there's therapy tomorrow morning where I can share it all with Jan. But I wish, so much, I felt better than this.
01 February 2016 @ 04:22 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Three  
Things I Have Done for My Mental Health Today

1. Managed my money

Traditionally, I tend to manage my money by avoidance, and by keeping a running tally in my head of how much money I have remaining in my checking account. It makes me enormously anxious to look up my balance in my online banking app, and so I don't. None of these things work. So a few days ago I started using You Need a Budget, an app that helps you set up a budget for yourself (with customizable lists of expenses), and then tracks how much you spend. You can link it directly to your checking account if you like, or you can, like me, put in the amount in your checking and saving balances on the day you start using it, and it keeps track from then on by you registering your transactions. There's an app for the phone, so while you're out and about you can add transactions that way, and it's all very nifty. What I like best about it is that I can see, at a glance, how much of my budgeted funds I have left for each line item. So today I went grocery shopping, leaving me with $291 left for the rest of the month in that category. Very helpful!

The budget isn't set in stone - in fact they encourage you to adjust your budget as you spend, so that you can trade off, say, going out one night for dinner with your grocery budget, for example.

This morning I entered all the checks I mailed off today, and all my beginning-of-the-month bill pays, and instead of feeling mildly terrified by watching my balance go down, I felt totally in control, and able to see where I had money left and where I didn't. Major victory.

This afternoon I also took my tax documents to my accountant. He's a lovely man, but his office is up four very long flights of stairs, and then at the end of a long, long corridor, and some days it's like climbing Everest to go there. But I girded my loins, gathered up what I needed to give him, and dropped it all of. This is the earliest I have ever done that.

2. I went to therapy

I went to therapy with two things to talk about - the fact that I felt sort of jumpy around two of my friends last week, and the fact that I've realized I'm terrified of all men in England. All of them. To my surprise, Jan decided we'd process the first one first, but she explained that since those were core relationships to me, we needed to get that sorted out before we did anything else. Smart lady.

Last week while out (separately) with G and then M, I felt as if I was in a bubble, unable to really connect or empathize with what they were saying, feeling like I had something I needed to say to them but couldn't remember what. Jan immediately said, do you think that's dissociation? Which, duh, yes it is, but I hadn't realized that before she said it. Amazing how the most obvious things just fly by us.

So we EMDR'd one of the conversations I'd had with M, and I let every dang thing in my mind come up in my consciousness, and mentally followed all the leads. It ended up that yes, I'd been dissociating because I'd been triggered, and being so badly triggered that I needed a week off work has scared the pants off me, leaving me feeling things are badly out of my control. This manifested in me feeling like I would always feel 'in the bubble' - that I wouldn't be able to connect, and maybe I shouldn't expect to connect, because my friends were so much better than I was, and so on and so on. Jan said, nope, that's a cognitive distortion. Have you ever felt 'in the bubble' before? Yes. Has it persisted since that time, or did it come to an end at some point? It came to an end. Did you survive the bubble? Yes. So you see, you have evidence of what's going on and what the outcome will be, but you're feeling so anxious you're taking your panicked feelings of 'this will never get better' as if they're truth.

Wow. It's strangely empowering to consider that I know what I'm doing when I dissociate, that my mind and body know how to handle it because they've done it before. I love that positive twist on things, because so often feeling like this makes me feel weak and powerless, and instead of me looking at the last few years as a recurring set of examples of me being triggered, I can look at it as a recurring set of examples of me triumphing over that.

So in the last round of EMDR I thought to myself, like a mantra, you are strong and you are mighty. And that's opened up some mental space for myself. I still feel anxious, but at least I feel like that anxiety is not agency destroying anymore.

We talked about miscellaneous other things, including my daytime lack of appetite. Body talk )

3. I hired a house cleaner

My friend's cleaning lady, Veronica, came over today and looked over my house, checked where all the cleaning supplies were, and gave me a time and cost estimate. It was all in my budget, so she's coming on Friday to clean everything thoroughly. I am so grateful that this is not my responsibility anymore, I cannot even.

4. I am sitting in my big chair right now, drinking tea

I could be doing a hundred things but I am purposefully not doing any of them. Jan said today that nature hates a vacuum, and things will pour into empty spaces if we don't put something there ourselves. So I'm looking at this week that way. I am empty of resources, and I need to put good things back in that space.
31 January 2016 @ 02:05 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day Two  
Yesterday went pretty well. I did too much in the morning - I was wiped by the time I finally went to bed - but I didn't expect too much of myself in the afternoon, and was made very happy by the bits of things I did do - a bit of laundry; washing those wine glasses. Washing the wine glasses turned out to be really important, because where I thought I was going to a friend's house for drinks, she thought she was coming to me, so when she did I actually had wine glasses to drink out of. That was a nice confirmation of it being useful to do these things!

Today has been wonderful. I slept in a little bit, and had some tea while I caught up online, and then my mom called. I had told her last week that I was struggling with seasonal affective disorder, and it was making work really hard, so she asked me if this week had been better. I decided to risk telling her at least part of the truth and said no, it had been worse, and I was taking a week's leave to get my mental health in order. She immediately asked me how the weather was :)). But she returned to the subject after a couple of other questions, and I told her how I felt, and what I was going to do to help myself, including that I was going to therapy twice. I explicitly mentioned that PTSD was part of the issue. She asked follow up questions; she accepted that the things I was telling her were important. It was kind of revelatory, actually, to know that I could be honest and she would listen.

And then I went over to the home of my friends, S and J, and my time there was genuinely blissful. I don't know what it is about them, their home, the energy there, what it was, but I left with my shoulders down for the first time in weeks, breathing more deeply than I have in a long time. We had delicious food - baked eggs on a bed of spinach; sausage; gingerbread french toast, a bloody mary each - and we talked for a long time. S's mom lives with them, and she took their son to play giving us time alone, bless her. We talked about everything imaginable - astrology, legacies of abuse and alcoholism in our families, work, our Myers-Brigg types (I don't actually know mine), dealing with conflict . . . the conversation just kept unspooling in the most amazing and unpredictable ways. S has been trained to do color matching, so she's going to "do my colors" on Thursday (for free) as part of my week off. I don't really place much stock in that, but it can't hurt, and maybe it will help. And it ends up her mom does Reiki, so we're going to set up an appointment for that later in the week. Again, I don't know whether I "believe" in it, per se, but I think the mere fact of being in a place where people are focused on healing could be really powerful. (Oh! And my hair stylist is making me three mint bath bombs (mint is my favorite scent) and bringing them to my hair appt. on Tuesday. I plan to take a couple of really luxurious baths with those.) S and J sent me home with one of their Blue Apron meals to make for dinner - I couldn't have been more cared for if I tried.

My gosh, it is amazing to feel so relaxed. I am so lucky to know both J and S, and so grateful for what they gave me this morning. They are the best.
30 January 2016 @ 02:53 pm
Diary of a Leave, Day One  
I'm counting today as the first day of my leave. I have nine days before I have to go back to work - nine days to take care of myself and my mental health in every way I know how. I'd like to feel capable by the time I go back, even energized. But just waking up and feeling like I have the resources to tackle the day would be wonderful.

I've made a plan for the week - things that will help me, with unscheduled time between to do whatever feels good and right. I'm planning on going walking at the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and doing a drop-in yoga session on Tuesday and Thursday at my favorite local place. I have therapy on Monday and Wednesday, and I'll do it Friday, too, if I need to. I've arranged social contact almost every day - brunch at a friend's house tomorrow, some colleagues coming over Monday night, dinner with G on Wednesday, B's birthday dinner on Friday. I brought home some work, which I plan to do gradually, but not with a goal of Being The Most Productive Ever, because that way lies madness (quite literally). Instead I'm just hoping to get some things done, slowly but steadily, and be a little ahead of the game when I go back.

Today I went to the grocery store early, before most other people were thinking of such a thing, and I bought lots of fruits and vegetables and some chicken so that I can make good food for myself all week. I went to the bakery and bought fresh-baked bread. I went by Lowes and bought firewood for the week. I met a friend to have breakfast for lunch, and I stopped by the library to pick up a book. My only other goals for today are to start some laundry, and wash all the wine glasses in the kitchen that won't fit into the dishwasher.

I feel such relief knowing I have this week, and the time to do whatever my brain needs me to do. I'm so glad for the double therapy, and for so many friends agreeing to be my social contact day by day. And I'm so grateful to my colleagues who have stepped up to make this possible. This is a rare opportunity, and I plan to do everything - including studious nothingness - with it that I can.