The last two days have been incredibly productive. It’s amazing what one can accomplish once you’re willing to let go of the electronic babysitters and face your problems. It all seems so silly now, but I won’t allow myself to get mired down in why it took me so long to take this step. I can only say that for whatever reason, I am finally ready to begin dealing with the emotional consequences of my disability and I am very grateful for it.
I will say that I do not believe for even a second that this spiritual and emotional awakening arriving at the same time that I’ve made such strides in tackling my dysautonomia is in any way a coincidence. Being at the mercy of dysautonomia is every bit as much the psychological roller coaster that bipolar disorder seems to be (I have a good deal of experience dealing with people with this disorder, so I in no way make this comparison lightly). We may experience things somewhat differently and the chemistry behind what’s going on may be somewhat different, but it is organic in both cases and entirely beyond that person’s control. No, they can’t just “calm down” and behave themselves like everyone else. Believe me, if they could, they would. They want to just as much as you want them to. No one wants to feel that way.
Dysautonomia and the depression, anxiety and anger that accompanies it is a big part of why I’ve come to feel such negative feelings about myself again. The slow changes I’m experiencing with these issues as my body heals are also how I’ve come to have a little pity for and patience with myself these past few weeks and have helped me to begin forming these new ideas and conclusions about myself. Improving my dysautonomia may have been the only way I could have begun this work in the first place, though I share it here in the hopes that others who also struggle with these issues may see their problem for what it is without having to go through it firsthand.
After all, mind body and spirit are inextricably linked and it is essential to heal each part to achieve wholeness; something we all desire in whatever modified definition we can come to accept. Like it or not, this is the life we have, the body we have, the mind and spirit we have. We get no other. We must do our best to care, love, nurture and cherish it for if we do not, certainly no one else will.
Normally, I consider a journal to be a deeply private thing, but for the purposes of example, I wanted to share the first three pages (give or take) of mine. I set them up to guide my process and they include those things I seek to change about my thinking and my actions, or what I call my “core issues” along with statements I need to keep in mind, or my daily “reminders.” I follow these up with some daily “affirmations” that I am trying to memorize without much success and will more than likely have to print off and laminate instead to place beside my mirror. All three pages will be part of my daily regimen of self-care. Page one is my Reminders:
I like to start off with my reminders because it’s a mixture of both positive and negative and a good place to start. It isn’t all hard stuff to swallow, nor is it all sunshine and kittens. It’s realistic and things I need to keep in mind everyday no matter how I feel or whether or not I’m stuck in dysautonomic hell.
Each day as I review my reminders and core issues, I will take notes about my progress and record any thoughts I have had about them. I might add a new issue that has come to my attention or examine a problem I had or the way I reacted to something and why I think things happened as they did. Being highly emotive, I tend to work things out by talking them out, so I will incorporate ideas from conversations I have had with my husband or friends. I don’t ever take away issues, but I may explain that I feel they are taken care of for now. I don’t remove them, because most of them are lifelong problems, so I know somewhere down the line they are likely to rare their ugly heads again.
Take a look at my chosen issues for some examples. You may have some similar ones and some different. It may take some time and honest soul searching for you to come up with your own. That’s OK. A journal is always a work in progress and should be private so you feel completely comfortable with being totally honest. Hopefully if you don’t have a therapist, you do have a friend you can be open and honest with that can help with some gentle suggestions. Don’t be surprised if you feel they are wrong or if you get really upset about it. Try not to comment if it does. Instead think really long and hard about it and ask yourself why you had the reaction you did. That’s where you’re going to find the answers you’re really seeking.
For me, this kind of work is the easy part. I’m a well trained monkey on the therapy wheel and once I’m prepared I have no difficulty with a level of emotional honesty that shocks most people, because not only am I aware of my flaws, I don’t really feel the need to hide them. What I do have difficulty with, still, is taking a compliment. Especially since my self-esteem is lingering in the s portion of the toilet right now, so sitting in front of a mirror telling myself I am beautiful inside and out and that people like me and want to be around me when I do not believe it is incredibly difficult for me. To be honest, I have yet to do it in a mirror, or above a whisper because it just feels like such a big fucking lie and I have a great deal of difficulty occupying that space.
I also find this to be the hardest document to share. In part because it shows how bad my self-esteem really is and makes me feel a bit vulnerable for it, but also because I have come to suspect as an adult that people take my quiet shyness as egotism and I have always found narcissism such an ugly quality, so I hate to publish a list of I statements about how fantastic I am when they are things that I actually feel the complete opposite about myself. This list could have been so much longer, but I caution you to pick only the biggest of your issues to begin with. You can always choose others later, once you’ve got a good hangle on these.
When doing daily affirmations, you really need to work your way up to doing them in the mirror (and not only coiffed and in makeup, ladies). Get used to looking at yourself and smiling and saying the words over and over again, every single day. Record them and listen to them. Over and over again until you truly believe them. The reason we do this is to replace old bad tapes we have all set up in our minds about ourselves. We may not even know they are there, but they are. They come up every time the subject comes up. We have to change that thinking one way or another and repetition is the best, most proven way to do it. I’ve done it before and it worked. I can do it again. So can you.
Finally, I wanted to provide a few useful guidelines for journaling:
- Pick a quiet, comfortable place where you can be alone with your thoughts.
- Choose the right implements. If you write faster than you type, write. If your hands hurt from writing, type. If you like to doodle while you think and then start writing, use an art pad and make it as creative as you want or use a regular journal and create all the marginalia art your heart desires. Whatever works best for you.
- If you need devices to assist you in writing or typing, get them. There are sheaths you can buy to go over pens and pencils, you can buy big fat pens, you can speak to type. If you do better talking out loud, try recording yourself instead so you don’t have to worry about editing for clarity. You can pick up a cheap recorder or use one on your laptop or cellphone.
- If you have busybodies in your life, protect your journal. Lock it up, password protect or fingerprint protect it. Do whatever you have to do to ensure your privacy. It doesn’t matter how close you are to your spouse/best friend/roomie, there will always come a time when you want to write about something you don’t want to share and that’s your right!
- Free-writing is great some of the time and works great for some, but others need structure. If you find yourself going in circles or just getting more upset, look into journaling guides and workbooks. There are a lot of them out there. You can also find exercise examples on many blogs on a variety of subjects.
- Take advantage of inspiration when it hits. Just finished watching a movie that had some parallels to your life? Wonderful! Journal about it to help unlock the full potential of that experience!
- Don’t use your journal to rehash every wrong that’s ever been done to you. Sometimes you need to use it to examine a particular experience, especially if it just occurred, but try to keep it rooted in understanding your own reactions and motivations and NOT THE OTHER PERSON’S. Also try to avoid perpetuating bad feelings. Look instead for resolutions and take aways: Why did I react like that? How could I have done things differently? How might I approach or possibly avoid a similar situation next time?
- Review your journal regularly to look for patterns of behavior and opportunities for improvement. After all, the whole point is to make your life better, happier and more workable for you! What’s the point of writing these things down if you’re only going to ignore them later?
- Never use your journal to berate, belittle or chastise yourself. Remember, we are all inherently flawed and that’s OK. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to slip up. That doesn’t define who we are. It’s how we deal with those errors that really counts and being hard on yourself about it only makes your life harder. Learn from the experience, change from it. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and all anyone can ever ask of themselves.