Month: April 2014

Gratitude

I believe gratitude and the thankful acknowledgment of what has gone well in our lives – in the face of obstacles, trials, and tests – can be an integral component of our satisfaction with life.  Focusing on the negative is counterproductive and increasingly builds feelings of unhappiness and severe discontent with our lives.  When hospitalized in the psychiatric unit, we had a class on gratitude.  The discussion and workshop surrounded on the creation of a gratitude journal, one of the simplest and most fruitful ways to journal for both the experienced and those who struggle.  The point was to shift our attention away from our debilitating illnesses and symptoms to a place of thankfulness for who we are as individuals, and for the things going well in our lives that work to sustain us and keep us going.  I originally found it quite hard to find moments of gratitude in what I perceived to be an unrelenting, blatant accost on my life and emotional wellbeing, but once I began practicing this form of journaling, I realized how much positivity and good were in my life, a life I had once deemed to be dismal and irreparably damaged.  For example, though I may have bipolar, I have gratitude for the support and love I receive from my medical providers, family, and friends.

 

Here is how it works:  At the end of the day, choose at least five components of your day for which you are grateful and appreciative.  They have to be specific.  While you may be highly grateful for your cat or dog, choose something that has happened specifically today – such as, I am grateful for the happiness I received from playing with my dog in the park today.  Start each entry with “I am grateful for/that…”).  So surprising is the joy and sense of appreciation that arises from completing this journaling exercise.

 

Here is mine for today:

1.  I am grateful for my ability to afford a glass of tea and a crepe at the local coffee shop today.

2.  I am grateful that I was able to listen to the rain pattering on roof of our house.

3.  I am grateful for my ability to sleep in this morning without having to worry about obligations or expectations to meet.

4.  I am grateful that I was able to spend the afternoon enjoying a book I have so desperately been trying to finish.

5.  I am grateful for my sister picking me up at the coffee shop on a whim, taking time out of her day and projects she had been working on to cater to my needs.

 

Focusing on gratitude has truly brought me from the depths into light.  When I fall back into the darkness, it tosses me a rope and draws me out once again.  In my August 2013 hospitalization, I was in a psychotic manic episode and focusing on not much more than self harm, death, and suicide.  I eschewed myself from anything positive, as I saw myself not making it out this time and was ready to succumb to my illness.  By chance of attending this workshop, my entire perspective changed.  My illness and symptoms did not change, but my perspective did.  By having a more positive outlook, I began to rewire neural pathways.  Nurturing positivity did not heal the cut on my arm, nor the suicidal ideations and hallucinations, but it created a platform by which I could start to rebuild my life, brick by brick.

 

For a further resource and an expanded perspective on gratitude journals, try this link:

Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

 

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A Convergence of Paths

Quite funny, isn’t it

The way paths can run parallel

Different times, yet ever concurrent

Never to converge

Yet to cross often

In twists and tangles

Resembling interlocking stitches

Intricate patterns

A patchwork quilt

Whether it be falls or cuts

The leaking of a shared madness

Of unbridled brilliance

Beauty rests in the

Crossing, yet separation

Of these two souls

One has succumbed to darkness

While the other yearns

Earnestly to dance therein

Envious of such bravery

Obsessed, perhaps

Yet this bravery metamorphoses

Into an impetus for the

Second soul to live

A gift, carefully wrapped

Contemplate not

Accept this gift

The first soul implores the second

Toss not away this world

Worship the inherent light

Such a mystery, is this crossing

A rare offering, a blessing in disguise.

 

© 2014 Alexandra Shall

Unmet Expectations

In life, we set for ourselves a multitude of expectations, anywhere from I will walk my dog every morning and evening to I will work ceaselessly to jump through these hurdles and obstacles in order to attain this goal (whatever it may be).  Oftentimes we meet or surpass our expectations for ourselves, and quite often we fall devastatingly short.  Others in our lives, work, institutions, etc., also impose standards and expectations on us as individuals, and the possible consequences of unmet expectations can be disheartening and dire.  Perhaps our greatest critic in the evaluation of personally held expectations and expectations arising from others in our lives is ourselves.  Yes, one did not receive the promotion at work they were so ardently striving for.  Harsh self-judgment and dwindling self esteem ensue, creating a perfect storm for the deterioration of self and who they perceive themselves to be.  The boss or supervisor in the position of offering the promotion feels little or no repercussion on behalf of the employee failing to meet their expectation.  That is not to say that the boss or supervisor did not hold an expectation as well in investing in the employee to perform in such a manner.  However the main point is this: we hold ourselves to a multitude of expectations, some lofty and unattainable, some feasible and achievable, and at times some far beyond the confines of our abilities to attempt or achieve.  When we fail, in our eyes, we challenge our inherent worth as individuals and create conditions for the development of that perfect storm in which all emotions come to head and the blame and belittling of oneself manifest.  

I have held many expectations for myself over the course of my lifetime – audition and be accepted into various symphonies, achieve honors in piano evaluations and competitions, graduate valedictorian of my high school class.  I have achieved some expectations, while others have fallen to the wayside, as is the natural course of life.  I hit a point in my early teens in which I felt as though I was consistently not meeting the expectations I was continually setting for myself.  Being valedictorian became an impossibility, as I did not graduate from high school, instead completing the California High School Proficiency Exam, which was a direct result of the worsening of my bipolar symptoms and a steady increase in the amount of hospitalizations I was experiencing.  I have so devotedly endeavored to complete college, and have been attempting so since the age of seventeen, but I have not yet met this expectation that I strictly hold, and always have held, for myself.  I spent a few years in community college, taking classes on and off while constantly fighting this beast of an illness, and eventually transferred to Portland State University.  I spent three years there, nearly finishing my degree, when the hospitalizations (5) began again after six years of dormancy, and I began an unrelenting series of outpatient programs, appointments, ECT treatments, etc.  It does not look as if I will be able to return anytime soon, though I pray for fall.

I struggle with self esteem and self worth in my failure to meet this expectation.  It is one that I have been struggling and fighting unyieldingly.  Surviving my battles has shown that blame and nurturing the feelings of inadequacy are counterproductive and ill-inducing to the mind and the esteem in which we hold ourselves.  In this ceaseless process, I have learned something of utmost importance.  The outcome of our expectations, our fights – whether positive or negative – is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the love and compassion we hold for ourselves in the twisted, convoluted process of developing and setting expectations for ourselves and others, and not falling into the trap of self-deprecation when the results are contrary to what our minds forecasted them to be.  Expectations should be a process of growth and not opportunities that come with tags proclaiming either success or failure.  While I struggle daily with feelings of frustration and failure, I try to remember to offer myself feelings of love and compassion, and also appreciation and understanding for the path I have trodden, where I currently stand, and the roads I may tread in the future.

 

WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Great Expectations

Time Bomb

A mind is like a time bomb,

In more ways than one.

Our lives tick away

Until a moment of silent

Detonation and our souls pass peacefully

To the next world.

The ticking in my mind

Began as the soft ticking of a

Grandfather clock and over the years

Became the deafening boom of a

Tympani residing deep within my head.

Was this death, the conclusion of my life

Resting in such closeness,

Its bitterness tickling the tip of my tongue?

At such an inopportune time,

The time bomb detonated with great explosion

Reverberating through all of aspects of my life,

Leaving my mind shattered and in utter disrepair.

Oh, I found it was not death

I was to succumb to,

But rather a fate far worse

And devastating than death itself.

 

© 2014 Alexandra Shall

 

This poem is in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Time for Poetry.  I wrote this poem in my mid-teens.  I have reworked it a bit, but I wanted the original essence to remain, embracing any imperfections.  I see it as a snapshot of myself at that age – my emotions, my thoughts, my cognitive processes – and I appreciate the simplicity of the piece, not too many bells and whistles.  Returning to older poems provides me with a concrete, definitive illustration of where I have been, my journey, and where I am now.  I find delight and thanksgiving in this process.

Loneliness and Alienation

In an earlier post, I discussed the disappearances people with mental illness can make, evaporating stealthily from social circles following psychiatric hospitalizations and treatments.  Unfortunately loneliness and alienation have become such ingrained components of the lives of people with mental illness.  Not only do prolonged disappearances yield loneliness and alienation due to increasing absence in social circles, but stigma and confusion play a part as well.  When mental illnesses present in adolescence, this creates a prime breeding ground for the confusion that cultivates and fosters alienation.  Adolescents become confused when their friend and comrade disappear for a short – or even extended – period of time, and for reasons that are foreign, and at times, incomprehensible.  If one considers this situation, it may present with partial truth, in a sense, as mental illnesses are complex phenomena that even adults fail to understand.  If adults struggle with accepting and understanding mental illness, expecting adolescents to be entirely understanding and cognizant of the gravity and tragic nature of mental illness is a difficult request.  However this does not detract from the devastation and hurt felt by adolescents experiencing mental illness who make intermittent disappearances in the course of their treatments and who are ostracized when their symptoms and suffering percolate over, spilling into their academic and social lives, where their peers demonstrate limited understanding and eschew connection with things they just do not relate to or comprehend.  As a result of these factors, the social circles surrounding an adolescent experiencing mental illness slowly dissipate, support and friendships disappearing surely and swiftly.  In sets the beginning of alienation.

Loneliness and alienation are not restricted to adolescence.  Adults also experience disappearances – psychiatric hospitalizations, leaving jobs on disability – all of which affect their work lives and social circles.  Loneliness and alienation are such profound experiences, and probably some of the most tragic.  Social connection extends beyond superficial engagements, such as coffee at the cafe or a birthday party.  Rather it is such an integral part of human existence, providing sustenance to our minds and spirits, and the absence of this connection is debilitating.  People with mental illnesses experience this social ostracism and alienation, which peg away at their ability to push forward and, in fact, can hinder treatment and recovery.  I believe people have the power to be incognizant of the increasing distance they are placing between themselves and a friend or loved one with a mental illness, but recognizing this is imperative.  Loneliness is a crippling experience and is the antithesis to mental and emotional wellness.

Since adolescence, I have been battling the loneliness and alienation associated with having a mental illness.  I was lively and social with many friends in middle school, but when I hit my freshman year of high school, circumstances drastically changed.  About a month and a half into the term, I was suddenly hospitalized in the adolescent psychiatric unit at UCLA.  Thus I made a quick and silent exit from both my studies and my social circles.  I spent nearly five weeks in inpatient care before I was discharged, not long before Christmas.  I was psychotic, I was catatonic, and I was severely depressed.  My diagnosis was confirmed as bipolar, and after numerous medications trials, I was deemed well enough to reenter the “real” world once again.  The rumors surrounding my absence were numerous, and it was at this point that alienation began to ensue.

As the school year passed, I experienced four more hospitalizations for mania, psychosis, depression, and often times a simultaneous combination of the three.  Needless to say, my completion of my freshman year was quite difficult.  I tried to reenter my social circles sophomore year of high school, but my debilitating symptoms continued.  It was at this point that the deterioration of my social supports became severely exacerbated.  I felt as though I had lost many of the friends I had previously had, and this feeling only worsened.  I switched schools in attempts to have a fresh start, but that was to no avail.  Friendships never returned, and the loneliness and isolation became constant and  devitalizing components of my life.

At this point in my life, I would love to say that I have rebuilt and revamped friendships and reestablished my presence in social circles, flying high as quite the social butterfly, but I still battle the loneliness and stigma that have seemingly forever plagued my life, although thankfully to lesser degree.  While my significant friendships are few and far between, I feel as though I am gaining some sustenance, but my soul cries for more.  I wish I could regain the social breadth and confidence I held in my middle school years – no, I yearn for it with such intensity, expending my emotional energy and resources.  While I am slowly rebuilding and regaining relationships, but still feeling the pangs loneliness and alienation have wrought on my life, I am ever increasingly seeing the importance of implementing efforts to educate people about mental illness in order to erase confusion and stigma.  Perhaps a greater understanding of mental illness would work to abate the loneliness and alienation that can occur and threaten the wellbeing of those experiencing mental illness.

Fifty

This piece (I am unsure of what to categorize it as) is in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.  The challenge for this week was to write a piece composed of fifty words – no more, no less.  What I have written is dark and perhaps disturbing.  This could very possibly be a reflection of my mood today.  The following is my take on the challenge.

Can fifty words have the power to absolve

Break open the flood gates of eternal guilt

Erase the muddy tracks of demons

Who have waltzed across my arms

Give back to me what was taken on a summer night

How glorious, how simple it would be

The power of fifty

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty