Accidental Fudge

Updates Thursdays

Tag: self-care (page 1 of 3)

Action

Happy New Year, readers! The adventure(?) that was 2017 has ended, and 2018 has begun. Last year was a rough one on a global level, but while my generalized anxiety reached new heights, I can’t say it was a terrible year for me personally. Sure, I didn’t knit as much as I usually do and I spent a lot of the year feeling an overwhelmingly hopeless sense of doom…but I also strengthened some really meaningful friendships, went to Song School, wrote 20 new songs…and I survived. A lot of pieces of my life that felt chaotic and unsettled for a long time have calmed down significantly, to the point where I feel like I’m coming out of survival/energy conservation mode and into a place where I can DO things.

Which brings me to the point of this first post of 2018. I don’t do a lot with concrete resolutions, but I’ve liked the idea that I’ve seen of choosing a word with which to frame the new year. My word for 2018: Action. I am still sussing out exactly what that means for my year, but I know it means a few things for sure:

  1. Taking better care of my mental health, particularly in terms of anxiety. I am back in therapy with a new therapist, and my goal is to work on finding better coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with the anxiety that has become a constant under the current political administration in the U.S. I’ve identified some triggers and some key areas where I shut down, and while I know this will be hard work, I am at a point where I feel like I can do it.
  2. Taking better care of myself physically. I’ve started physical therapy for my right knee, which has been acting up since Thanksgiving, and as long as I keep up with the exercises, it really does help. Today I’m going to the doctor to follow up on some high blood pressure results from the last time I was there. I have a few other longstanding issues that I want to work on, too (chronic pain, follow-up on some issues I had before we moved to Chicago that should probably be checked out).
  3. Being more politically active. I want to call congresspeople, and be involved in local politics somehow, and stay outraged and stay active. Because this nightmare of an administration isn’t going away on its own. I can’t do everything, I can’t fix it all, but what little bit is in my control, I feel like I need to follow through on.

The brilliant S. Bear Bergman wrote a really wonderful bit about this in his Ask Bear column this week, and you should read it here if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed here at the start of 2018. Here’s to tackling this new year “bird by bird” (to quote Anne Lamott), or “one penguin at a time” (to quote Bear’s article). We can only do what we can do. For myself, that means better self-care and more external action. Inertia is hard to overcome, but it’s time.

Sometimes Self-Care Looks Like…

We’re less than one week from Christmas. On Saturday, my partner and I will get up at an ungodly hour of the morning and drive to Minnesota, where we’ll spend a week with family. (Incidentally, there may or may not be a blog next week, on account of the holidays.)

As 2017 draws to a close, and I find my life in a relatively stable place overall, I am allowing myself some time to more closely examine the areas of my life that have long been neglected in favor of what felt like more pressing crises.

One of those areas is anxiety management. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so I’m no stranger to anxiety, but with the current state of the world, I’m finding the coping mechanisms I have aren’t sufficient. I’m also noticing where my anxiety is affecting other areas of my life – how it makes me shut down around conflict, how it destroys my productivity at work, how it keeps me from enjoying social situations that didn’t used to be a problem. I had my first visit with a new therapist on Monday. Sometimes in therapy in the past I’ve had trouble articulating why I was there, and what I needed, but this new therapist was able to sort of draw that out of me and help me frame my goals for therapy more solidly than I’ve been able to in the past. I think things are going to work out well with them.

Another area that I’ve been neglecting is more physical. There are a lot of aspects of my physical health that I am not great at paying attention to, but I’ve been having particular trouble with my knees lately, as a joint issue I was diagnosed with in high school has flared up again. It’s done this occasionally over the years, but now my right knee has been swollen and stiff for a month, and my left knee is getting sore from compensating for it. Thankfully, this time when it flared up, I made an appointment with my doctor right away, who referred me to a physical therapist. I had my first PT appointment yesterday, and it was kind of miraculous how much of a difference a single, half-hour appointment made. I have instructions to do some stretching exercises every few hours during the day for the next couple of weeks, until my next appointment, and it’s encouraging to see progress on the first day.

Sometimes self-care looks like finding a new therapist, even if the process of finding a new therapist is, itself, kind of anxiety-inducing.

Sometimes self-care looks like making that doctor’s appointment that probably should have been scheduled months ago.

Sometimes self-care looks like knitting selfishly after working on a rare unselfish project for a couple of months. I knit my nephew a sweater for Christmas, and while it was fun and it looks super cute and I think he’ll like it, there’s something immensely satisfying about working on a sweater for myself with tons of cables (which is far and away my favorite type of project to work on).

The holidays are rough for a lot of people, for all sorts of reasons. My own holiday is looking like it’ll be bittersweet – I get to spend time with all sorts of people I care about, which will be lovely, but my 15-year-old dog (okay, she’s my parents’ dog, but we got her the summer I turned 14, so she’s still my dog) is not doing well, and it’s almost certain that next week I’ll be saying goodbye for the last time. I’m already sad, thinking about it, as much as I’m grateful that I will get one last chance to see her. Sometimes, for me, self-care looks like blocking out some time in my schedule to process the feelings I don’t have space for, say, at work. Which is all to say that this is a time of year where self-care is particularly important, and that self-care is going to look different for everyone.

I wish all of you the happiest holidays you can manage, and I hope you all find ways to take care of yourselves through the rough patches.

Brief Bright Spots

It feels like it’s been a long week. In reality, I stayed home from work on Monday after waking up feeling feverish, and I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping as I try to fight off this annoying cold that isn’t awful but just won’t leave. I’m still dealing with anxiety. But there have been some distinct bright spots in the week, so I’m going to focus on those today.

  1. We started putting up holiday decorations in our apartment. We have lights around the windows, and the (fake) tree is up. We still need to get the lights on the tree plugged in (we had to acquire another extension cord first – there’s a paucity of outlets in our apartment), and put the ornaments on, but that should happen in the next few days. I have complicated feelings about Christmas (it no longer holds particular religious significance for me, and the capitalist overtones of the secular side of the holiday are overwhelming and upsetting), but I do like the decorations, especially the lights. So that’s been fun.
  2. I found out my knee is not untreatably messed up. My right knee has been swollen and achy for a few weeks. Finally made it to the doctor last week, and while it looks like I need physical therapy (currently waiting on a referral), it doesn’t appear to be anything irreparable. So that was encouraging.
  3. I scheduled an intake appointment with a new therapist. My last therapist, who I adored, moved to Portland in September. I felt like I was doing mostly okay, but I’m recognizing that I’m still dealing with a lot of anxiety. I’m also finding, as my life in general becomes more stable, that there are areas of my psyche I have avoided dealing with in the past that are now coming to the surface, so it feels like a good time to find someone to process all of that with. I don’t know whether things will work out schedule-wise with this particular person, but I’m optimistic.
  4. I wrote a letter. I have this pen pal in Germany who I’ve been corresponding with off and on since 2013. He is a great pen pal and regularly sends me postcards, interspersed with occasional longer letters and some photographs he’s taken. I have been a horrible pen pal, and have maybe written to him once all this year. But this week, after receiving yet another postcard from him, I finally sat down and wrote him a proper letter. It reminded me that I really enjoy letter writing, when I actually sit down to do it. I am hoping to do more of this in 2018.
  5. Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for the Alabama seat in the Senate. I had not fully processed how much tension I was carrying about this until I got a text from my dad on Tuesday night announcing that Jones had won. It’s restored a little bit of my faith in our collective humanity, and has me feeling tentatively hopeful about next year’s midterm elections. I’m still disgusted that it was a close race and that the majority of white people (including the majority of white women) voted for a pedophile. In fact, 80% of voters who self-identified as white evangelical/born-again Christians voted for Moore. (Stats found at Washington Post and NBC.) White Christians, do better. Call this out. This is not just a southern problem – the whole country was complicit in electing 45. This is a white people problem, and especially a white evangelical problem. I found this opinion piece in the Washington Post really on point – worth a read.

All that to say that while things still feel pretty shaky on a global level, personally, I’m doing okay. Or if I’m not exactly okay, I’m finding ways to get there. And really, that’s about all I can ask for right now.

Making Mental Space

First, a quick mental health update: I am still wading my way through this latest depressive swing in my Bipolar cycle, but I feel like I’m starting to move out of it. I haven’t been feeling great physically this week, so it’s been a little hard to tell, but I seem to be reaching the point where I have more energy. Whether that’s due solely to the cyclical nature of my moods, or due in part to some other work I’ve been doing, I don’t know, but I’m feeling better overall than I was last week.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been trying to establish some new, healthier routines for myself. Over the past several months I’ve noticed I tend to go to bed pretty early and I still have trouble getting up in the morning. I’ve felt like I’m tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep I get. I’ve had to accept the fact that I am no longer really a night owl. As I’ve been examining this pattern, I’ve realized I actually want to become a morning person. This is the first time in my life that that’s been true. So I’ve been getting up at what I would formerly have referred to as an ungodly hour in the morning  (or “stupid o’clock”), writing my morning pages (I’m on week two of The Artist’s Way), and giving myself time to start the day off more slowly, rather than rolling out of bed twenty minutes before I need to leave and dragging myself out the door.

It’s been going…surprisingly well. I think it makes a difference knowing that the first thing I have to do when I get up is write, rather than get ready for work. Intentionally planning non-work things into my morning means that I don’t fight to stay in bed as long. I’ve actually gotten up at my first alarm every morning for the past ten days – prior to that, I was setting five, six, seven alarms at intervals in the morning, because I knew I’d turn off one or two in my sleep, and while I always had the thought of “well, maybe I’ll get up earlier,” when I knew I had an alarm letting me know that I could no longer stay in bed if I wanted to make it to work on time, I let myself off the hook too easily. The fact that I’ve managed to be awake and doing something within five minutes of my first (and only) alarm for over a week feels like a huge accomplishment. Granted, I write my morning pages sitting up in bed, so I’m not up and moving about, really, but I’m still awake!

My partner and I are continuing to do a weekly meal plan (which is getting easier by the week, because now we know how much time and effort we save plotting it all out at the beginning of the week rather than getting to each evening and playing the “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” game), and we’re also getting better at keeping up on routine housework. I feel like our space has never looked as consistently nice as it has for the past couple of months. I’m really proud of us.

In the end, what I’m trying to do is give myself more mental space. My mind is busy all the time. I lay down to go to sleep, and my brain goes racing down rabbit holes, trying to make sense of something that happened today, or last week, or ten years ago. I wake up, and it’s doing the same thing. I get songs stuck in my head. I’m easily distracted. I am almost never not thinking. But if my physical space is clean/less visually cluttered, and I don’t have to worry about what’s for lunch or dinner, and I’ve taken time in the morning to dump some of my brain out onto paper…hopefully, in the end, I’ll find that my mind settles down more often. Ideally, I’d like to be at a point where racing thoughts are just ideas, not anxiety – where the routines I’ve established allow me to let go of some of the worry so I can focus on more interesting (and maybe even productive) things.

What about you, friends? What do you do to create mental space for yourself?

Down Days

It has, objectively, been a pretty good week I got to spend some quality time with friends, enjoy a comedy show, a theatre show, and a concert, and I’ve had some quality alone time, too. 

But because my Bipolar brain doesn’t always or only react to outside circumstances, the objective positivity of the week hasn’t translated to an equal level of emotional positivity. 

I’m in a bit of a depressed downswing, is what it comes down to. 

Now, this is nowhere near the worst I’ve felt, and I know that eventually I’ll be fine. But it’s still a struggle. 

At the same time that this downswing has been happening, I’ve been working really hard to establish more routine in my life. My partner and I have started meal planning over the weekend for the whole upcoming week. I’m getting back into the habit of using my planner and writing down my to do lists instead of trying to keep it all in my head. And I started working through The Artist’s Way this week, so I’m getting up early to do morning pages (three pages written longhand as a brain dump first thing in the morning) every day.

Establishing new routines is a challenge at the best of times, but it’s especially hard when depression hits and leaves you with no motivation. 

Still, I’m managing okay. I’ve done a better job than I was expecting myself to do. And I think it’s helping. Having a routine and a schedule to stick to saves energy, because I’m not wasting time figuring out what I need to be doing in the moment. 

So life doesn’t feel especially easy right now, but I think I can say that I’m doing okay. 

Getting Organized

I’m still struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things post-vacation, but I’m finding that I’m in an organizing sort of mood. Back in the spring I definitely felt a strong spring cleaning urge (which has not always been the case in past years), but I’m feeling a similar urge now that fall is approaching. Which is probably a good thing, because there’s a lot of junk (both physically and mentally) that can build up in half a year.

Personally, I find the changing of the seasons at the solstices and equinoxes good times to check in with myself about how the year is going. We’re not quite at the autumn equinox yet, but it’s fast approaching, and I’m thinking about how I want to get my life in order heading into the cooler months.

One of the classes I took at Song School was about time management for creative people. I need to pull my notes back out and find other ways to integrate what I learned, but a couple of the big takeaways were to use a physical, paper planner (which I was sort of doing, but inconsistently), and color-coding it (which I had not tried before, and which I think will be a big improvement). I’m still going to be using my Google calendar, too (I would often be lost without those reminders coming up on my phone), but the physical act of writing things in my planner by hand means that they stick in my head a lot better.

Another thing that was stressed in that class was the importance of scheduling creative time. I have never been great at this, and it’s something I want to get better at. Next week I start a new guitar class at the Old Town School of Folk Music, so sometime this weekend I want to sit down and figure out a practice schedule for that, as well as slotting in some time for writing. I’m resistant to structure, but I know in the end it’s better for me.

I’m also starting to think more about knitting projects, after not knitting much all summer (which is pretty normal for me). I have a few sweater and vest projects lined up, and I’m starting to look at my yarn stash with a more critical eye. I have a lot of yarn, much of which was inherited from a friend who passed away a handful of years ago, so it has a lot of sentimental value…but I’m aware of the fact that the yarn I have doesn’t often line up with the projects I want to knit. So that’s something I’m going to need to deal with soon, too.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to spend a fair amount of time in the next few weeks getting my mental space in order, which will set me up to get my physical space in order, as well. I am finally in a place where I feel like I can start making some plans for what I want my life to look like in three to five years, instead of focusing so hard on the next handful of months.

It’s been a bit of an off week. My partner got sick at the end of last week with a nasty summer cold, and while I never developed all of his symptoms, I definitely got the fatigue side of it (along with some sniffles and a sore throat). It meant weekend plans had to be canceled, and I missed work Monday. I still feel like I’m a few steps behind in everything, I’m still tired, and I’ve had a pretty persistent headache that has not been helped by whatever the weather is doing here in Chicago this week. 

That said, it hasn’t all been awful. There is a certain sense of relief that comes with being forced to slow down. On Monday, since I stayed home, I was able to craft and watch movies and play some guitar and take naps, and that was all a nice break from the stress of work. 

This week at work has seen the (mostly expected) onslaught of complaints about the new project that we launched last week, mostly by people who didn’t read their (many) emails about the changes that were coming and then found themselves scrambling to catch up. It’s frustrating, but again, not exactly unexpected. I’m now trying to pick up the threads of other, smaller projects that were put on hold as we pulled together the final details of the big project, which has been a challenge, since I’m still not feeling great and the persistent headache has made it hard to concentrate on anything for very long. 

I’m looking forward to the weekend, not for any particular plans, really, but just for a chance to hopefully kick the rest of this cold. Right now I feel like I could sleep for days. That’s not an option, but even a couple of extra hours here or there might help.  

Birthday Reflections

As I mentioned in last week’s post, my birthday was on Saturday, and as a present to myself, I took a five-day weekend. I feel like I managed a pretty good balance between packing in the things I wanted to do and taking time to take it easy. Here are some thoughts and highlights from my birthday week:

  1. I got a ton of things done around the house. Not quite as many things as I was initially planning on, but I still made some significant progress. I’m pleased with and proud of the work I did.
  2. Friday was the day of celebrating with friends. I got breakfast with a friend from work who had also taken the day off. In the evening, I met up with some friends for drinks, and then some more folks joined us for pizza and sangria. It was fantastic, and I felt (still feel) very loved.
  3. Saturday was the day of celebrating with my partner. It didn’t go quite according to plan (the weather was threatening thunderstorms that never came but that made us want to stay closer to home), but it was a really lovely day.
  4. Sunday, I went to see Wonder Woman. I have so many feelings about Wonder Woman, but a lot of them are summed up in this lovely tweet that’s been floating around the interwebs:

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    “I’ve lived to see my childhood princesses become generals.”

  5. Monday night, I had the privilege of playing an Acoustic Explosion show at Sylvie’s here in Chicago, along with three of my songwriting classmates and a couple of other cool acts. Four of the seven performers had June birthdays, which added to the fun. I went last (at 10:30 pm – way past my bedtime), which meant I was two drinks into the evening before I got up on stage; apparently, that is the magic number for me to relax enough to perform my songs at a reasonable pace. I actually had to cut a song out of my set because I hadn’t blasted through all of the things I’d prepared! Below are the two new songs I played in my set; the rest of the set was older material that’s already elsewhere on my SoundCloud page.

Digging In

The past week has been a pretty introspective one. I’m continuing to work on expanding my repertoire of self-care techniques. As I mentioned last week, I signed up for a three-week intro to yoga class, because it’s about damn time I started taking better care of my body. That started on Saturday. It came with the bonus of giving me free access to all of the other basic yoga classes at the studio for the duration of the three weeks, so I did yoga twice over the weekend, and am much less sore than I expected.

I’ve been continuing to try to reincorporate meditation and tarot into my daily routine. It’s been an anxious week, but I’ve been trying to give myself space when I need to in order to focus on my breathing and ground myself. This, along with yoga, has made me very conscious of something I was only dimly aware of before:

I am really bad at breathing.

I’ve never had a huge lung capacity, but wearing a chest binder for five years did me no favors in that regard. Today marks seven months since I had chest masculinization surgery, but even though I haven’t been binding for months now, I haven’t gotten out of the bad breathing habits my body developed over those five years. When I try to breathe deeply, I find that it all feels stuck high in my chest. Belly breathing is a mystery to me. I can visualize how it should work, but in my body, it’s not. At least not yet. So that’s a major piece of grounding that I’m going to be focusing on for a while, I think.

It feels like my life is taking a very meditative direction lately, and my initial reaction to that was to feel guilty: after all, there is so much to be done, such chaos in the world around me that needs to be confronted. I brought this up in therapy on Sunday, and my therapist pointed out that self-care is essential to resistance. Resistance is in large part about stamina, going in for the long haul, and that’s not possible if you don’t take time to dig in and build a solid, sturdy foundation for yourself.

I still feel guilty, but I recognize the truth there: I’m no good to anyone if I’m not taking time to take care of myself. I’m acutely aware of the privilege I hold that allows me to take that time. I hope that I ultimately use that privilege for good.

A Brain Full of Pollen and Bees

Spring has officially sprung and is out in full force in Chicago: there are fresh, bright green leaves on the trees, flowers everywhere, fearless bunnies in our courtyard…and pollen. Pollen, everywhere.

This is the glorious time of year when I want so badly to be outdoors, drinking in the signs of new life…but alas: I’m allergic to damn near everything outside. Trees, grass, flowers, weeds…if it can spew pollen into the air and over the sidewalks, it’s going to make me sneeze.

I’ve been walking around in a sort of pollen-induced haze for the past couple of weeks as a result. I’ve had a lot to get done at work, and I’m worried that I’m not doing enough of it, or that I’m forgetting important things because my brain is so foggy.

In the past couple of days, my brain has decided to up the ante: the pollen appears to have attracted bees.

I think I have mentioned on this blog before that ManicBrain feels a lot like having a head full of bees, and that is exactly what’s happening right now. Thoughts buzz around in my brain in so many directions that, at least half the time, I have no idea what I’m actually thinking about. So far, it’s mostly been the mental equivalent of bumblebees: busy, but generally harmless. I feel on edge, though, because my own personal hive mind tends to turn from bumblebees to wasps if the anxiety starts to spike, and if you’ve read the news or are even dimly aware of current events, you probably understand that there is no shortage of reasons to be anxious right now.

I’m working on expanding my repertoire of techniques for keeping myself grounded. After a couple of months’ hiatus, I’m getting back to incorporating tarot and meditation into my morning routine. I signed up for an introductory yoga class. I’m continuing to see my therapist even though a lot of the time I don’t have a clear vision of what I want to get out of therapy, because I find therapy a useful time to sort of check in with myself and a neutral third party about where my head is at. I’m trying to remember to breathe when I start to feel flustered. I’m listening to a lot of Deathmole.

Mostly, I’m just doing my best to dig in and hang on.

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