“Don’t make it worse…”
Those are some of the smartest words I have ever heard. They come from one of “my guys” that has walked this crazy road of recovery with me for the last 17 plus years. I have come to rely on these words to get me out of any number of tough spots, day in and day out. I wake up at the same time day in and day out. Before laying my head on the pillow for a little tv with the wifey, I make sure that I have planned out the next day to the best degree possible and set the alarm to go off at 4:20… I actually wake up on my own just a few minutes before the alarm goes off. I have always had the habit of being an early to bed, early to rise guy and this has served me very well as an adult. I never spend much time getting dressed. I have a very simple wardrobe system that enables me to literally get dressed in the dark… my grandfather taught me this… long before Steve Jobs had a mock turtleneck and Zuck had a hoodie. I have enough to do on a day in day out basis that I don’t want to waste time or energy thinking about clothes. It is not difficult to look sharp and keep things simple…. I digress, more on fashion later.
As a matter of principle, I consider the morning and evening to be the most important parts of my day. Another way to say this would be that “takeoff and landing are the most critical parts of any mission.” My mission is the day. To give myself the best chance of success on my mission, I need to have a good takeoff and landing. Sometimes, despite my best efforts and discipline, I get taken off course and overwhelmed early in the mission, right after takeoff. This happened yesterday.
I had a great plan for my morning. I had time blocked three projects I was working on and eager to make good progress on some writing in addition to finishing a couple projects around the house and in the garage. It was not long after sitting down and sipping a coffee that logins stopped working, passwords were not being recognized, and I could not find my reading glasses. These three simple little glitches were enough to obliterate my planned productive Saturday morning. Having PTSD and dealing with life’s little hiccups can feel like moving a boulder uphill with chopsticks. Immediately, dread started to fill me and I became flooded with thoughts of disappointing others, missing deadlines, and failing at the other 20 projects I have going at the moment. 110% overwhelmed and flooded at 6:30 a.m.!!! And over what!? The reality of my situation was way disconnected from what was going on in my head. All I needed to do was retrieve the password or required credential and move forward, or ask for help from my wife, I am sure she would have been happy to oblige. It is in this moment where I have trained myself to remember Blaise Pascals’ famous quote… “All of humanity’s problem’s stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” At this moment, I need to arrest myself and not make the situation worse. When I feel overwhelmed in situations like this, my head can easily spin out into thinking about other parts of my life that have nothing to do with what I am dealing with at the time. Yesterday, for example, as I realized that I was not going to get anything accomplished as planned, I began ruminating about how my daughters are dealing with school during SIP…. that led to a panic about cell phone service going down and not being able to communicate with those I love. This was NOT A GOOD SITUATION and I needed to pause and reflect.
Learning to live with mental illness takes practice and willingness. Please remember that I am only sharing how I handle these episodes, this could be a good practice for you or not, and you will only know after you have practiced what suits you day in and day out. On many days, the best a recovering alcoholic can do is simply not take a drink. Yesterday was that kind of day for me. While it was not that I wanted to take a drink, my mind was obsessed and I needed to stop and think. I decided in a rather short time, my new project for the day was going to be to finish a coloring page that I had started. It would take me all day and I could let go of the anxiety over the course of the day while knowing that the biggest choice I would need to make was what color to choose for the next section of coloring I was to accomplish. This felt light and creative. Creativity and lightheartedness are two great ways to combat anxiety and an overwhelmed feeling. The added kicker to this plan was that it also provided a significant sense of accomplishment. I am famous for starting projects and taking forever (if ever) to finish them. By committing to finishing the coloring page, I was also building my self esteem.
It is these little wins in my mental health learning curve that mean the most to me. I ended up having a great day and having some great conversation with wifey while she worked on her puzzle. The more I am able to pause, reflect and adjust in real time, the faster my mental health “bank account” gets filled up. It is the emotional version of the miracle of compounding interest. Things get better and better, a positive self fulfilling prophecy. The cherry on top of this mental health sundae is that I get to have a really pretty piece of art to remind me of the good mental health choices I made for myself and my family during SIP 2020… day in day out. DIDO