28 Years, 28 Lessons, Part One

My birthday is coming soon.  And, like every year around this time, I find myself in complete shock and awe that I am even alive, much less living a life of quality (which I've been struggling to remember lately--thanks therapy, for tearing me apart.)  I don't consider myself to be wise, on the contrary, I feel pretty clueless most days, but I wanted to share at least a few things I have learned in life so far.

28 Years, 28 Lessons (1-14) 

You are never in control.  This is a hard one for me, considering that I compensate for a lack of love and nurturing in my childhood by controlling (or attempting to control) my adult personal life.  I don't mean to sound cynical, but nobody has their shit together, nobody has it figured out, and most of all, none of us are in control.  Anything can happen at any given moment.  It's good to take a step back every so often if you're a control freak like me, and remember this.

Getting offended is a waste of time.  I wrote a whole, glorious post about this.  Basically, being offended changes nothing about any situation except for your own bad feelings.  It's a way to put you in a bad mood, and get nothing else accomplished.  Read the blog post for more on the topic; it's a topic I'm passionate about.

Splurging on massages, hair, etc., is not self love.  Self love begins with self awareness.  I always roll my eyes at these LoVe uRsElFFF~~~~babe!<3 posts that float around the internet.  Not only is it a waste of money/time to think you're actually loving yourself by doing that mess, but you're missing out on what it really means to love yourself.  The best thing any person can be is aware of who they are...it will change every relationship you have, including the relationship with yourself.  It sounds so simple, but even I struggle greatly with this.  In other words, sure, go have a spa day, but cut the shit about those things being love.  Love is a big word.

Most people have dysfunctional families.  This is not a comforting lesson, until you compare your own brand of family crazy to your friends and loved ones families.  This also helps with being empathetic to others; remember they probably have family drama.  Whether your family outwardly appears jacked up or put together, there's always at least a few wrenches in the gears.  This may just be something I tell myself when I'm crying, alone, at Christmas again, but I fully believe it to be the truth.

Being alone is important.  I cannot stress this enough.  I know I'm a skewed example because as an extreme introvert and sufferer of mental illness, I crave being alone to the point of isolation and hermitism....but still, well-developed individuals have that thing in common: they're independent.  Being alone is how you learn who you are, it's how you arrive at self-awareness.

Being in nature is important.  For me, at least.  I was raised in the forest and spent more time with trees and animals and rocks than I ever spent interacting with humans.  I can't explain just how it affects me when I go on a hike or just a mountain drive.  It's almost like the air fills up my empty shell of a body, breathes fresh oxygen into it, and repairs all the holes and wear and tear that I get thanks to everyday life.  Living off the land is hard, but so worthwhile.  I don't get out as much as I should.  Anyway, it's how I heal.

Surround yourself with people that enrich your life--whatever that means for you.  I find that this changes periodically for me, but I tend to gravitate toward calming souls and rational thinkers.  I had a real deficit of those for most of my childhood, so as an adult, they guide me back to objective reality when I need it.  They enrich my life by bringing me comfort and logic.  Some people might fare better with the fiery, emotional, artists in their life (the slot I take up) but the point is, find the ones who help you be a better you.  And who believe in you.

Allow yourself bad moods and sad days.  Tricky one, because a bad day can turn into a bad month--just ask anyone who suffers from depression or bipolar disorder.  I think we are all so afraid of being the Negative Nancy that it turns into a game of who can stuff their shit mood down their own throat for longer.  Again, self awareness is a great tool.  Just tell yourself it's a crappy mood time and that nothing lasts forever when it comes to emotions.  Nurture yourself on your own downtime, or find one of those life-enriching people.

Be your best version of yourself, and never stop improving. This was better said by Bruce Lee:  "There are no limits, there are only plateaus, and you must not stay there.  You must go beyond them."  Nobody can tell you how to do that best--you have to figure out what the best you is, and work on it.  And again, that's easier said than done.  I'm honestly only just now learning what version of myself I want to become.

We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions.  This is helpful advice when dealing with frustrating people in general, but especially loved ones/family, coworkers, and the people you see most frequently.  Instead of having a snap reaction to someone else's action, pausing to consider their intention might save you a lot of anger and misunderstanding.  And of course, if someone gets angry at you, always express your intention.

Get really good at reading and interpreting body language.  I could probably just become a psychic at this point, my body language reading skills (and facial cue reading etc) are so on point.  I've read that's a typical side effect of PTSD, and something that foster youth seem to have in common, so, call it an unwanted superpower.  But it sure saves me a lot of trouble when I'm trying to see if a situation is safe, or if a patient is worse off than they seem, or if a friend is upset, or being honest and sincere with me.  So, learn to read body language.  It's a good skill that can raise your empathy, and it might even save your (or someone else's) life.

Volunteer.  Just do it.  I don't care if you do it because you are nice, or because Jesus told you to, or because you want to rack up some sweet hours for your resume.  Just volunteer, because we waste an absolute fuckton of our time on this earth doing lesser things.

If hunger is not the problem, food isn't the solution.  As a former sugar addict I take this very seriously.  Food addiction is real.  Sugar addiction is real.  We only get one body, and we have limited resources to modify it when it malfunctions thanks to all the horrible side effects of overeating/sugar addiction/obesity/blah blah blah.  I get that not everyone is a health nut, definitely not me, but a lot of us run to food for comfort and it's really sad.  It's not a way to live.  I can say that, because I've been there.

From Elvis Presley:  "The truth is like the sun.  You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't going away."  The truth is a strange thing.  I am one of those people who would rather keep things to myself or from other people if the truth is going to hurt them.  I guess I don't qualify as brutally honest for that reason.  But every time I've tried to hide something to not hurt someone, it eventually blew up in my face.  I don't believe in fate or destiny, but again, experience has taught me that the truth is one of the few constants in life.  Tread carefully with your secrets.


Black Rock and Antelope Island, Utah

I've been really quiet around here for the past month, due to being so overwhelmed with jetting all over the southwest that even I can't believe how much ground I've covered, and most of it while working (more than) full time.  I think I almost had about ten mental breakdowns this past month, and all I can say is I am glad to be home and back in my routine.

But, homebody as I am, I love seeing the natural beauty in Utah and surrounding states; I have to break these photo dumps into several posts.  The funny thing is I didn't even take that many pictures..we just went a lot of places. .

Anyway, here are some shots of my personal favorites, Black Rock and Antelope Island.  Both spots are at the Great Salt Lake and easily accessible from Salt Lake City.


Hearing is Believing

I have never understood why, but accepted that sometimes the very small and seemingly inconsequential things in life really strike me as profound.  More specifically, they can remind me who I am when the grandiose gestures don't even faze me, most notably when I've lost the ability to reason.  I don't know if this is something that others with mental illness (or even without!) experience, but I'm thankful for it.

(Antelope Island State Park, Utah) 

One thing that PTSD does is really lower your cognitive skills, especially in times of great stress. It's not fun to give the impression of being stupid, or internally feeling stupid because some tiny part of you, that human part, knows that you are better than this, that you're rational, that you're capable of handling things without curling into a ball.  That other part of me often sits and watches in the back, quietly and impatiently going "come on, you know better." But knowing what you're capable of doesn't change the effects and behavior of operating in what I (cynically) refer to as "Vietnam mode."

So yesterday I lay there, in the dark, trying to feel safe, and trying to not feel bad for being so stunted with my reasoning. I was upset because I had tried to paint my nails, and later noticed that I arbitrarily skipped over my right ring finger for no apparent reason--just being a space case, mentally unaware. Somehow that visual, physical reminder that my brain is not working correctly really hit me hard--or as hard as anything can when I'm bouncing around inside my own head with no real direction.  On top of being dazed and mostly dissociated, I felt disappointment with myself.  Not sure which is worse.

The inconsequential thing happened right then, when I lay down in bed in the dark to curl in a ball and submit to everything I felt. I lay on my side and put my arm up to my head, to use as a pillow. The room was silent as well as pitch black, and after a few seconds of not noticing, I was surprised to realize I could hear my own radial pulse (due to my ear being directly over my wrist.) I've taken it plenty of times, and taken more pulses of other people than I can count at this point, but I've never actually stopped to listen to my pulse as it thumped along under the skin in my wrist.

Normally my pulse is pretty weak and slow, thanks to low blood pressure and being generally healthy, but since I've been stuck in an extended fight or flight mode, it was fast and loud and strong. I think that with having a medical background I'd be typically be concerned--my body is under stress, my heart is working overtime, that's not good--but I just felt so grateful to be laying there in peace and quiet, hearing blood moving through my hand. I was thankful to be alive, obviously, to hear such a basic bodily function that happens over and over and over for years and years and years, and I was thankful that my body was making an effort to protect me. It was working hard and I could actually feel it and hear it, intimately.  So surreal for me.

I suppose the moment really had a snowball effect on my thought process (what little, broken thought process I am able to have) and one reminder turned into many: I remembered then that I am an EMT, that I have a job where I put my adrenaline and instincts to use, that I have a bed to sleep in and the luxury of collapsing on it for peace and quiet when I'm not okay, I friends to talk to who know everything...I've never had that before, people who actually know what my mental illness is--and coming full circle, I have a body that carries around my very eccentric and sometimes inefficient brain, and my body does whatever the brain tells it to do (in this case, BEAT FASTER HEART! GET THAT BLOOD PUMPING THERE'S A HUGEEEEE THREAT!!!!! REASON? RATIONALITY? FUCK EM!!!)

I remembered that even though I'm not functioning well now, I will get through it somehow and keep moving on. And that in the meantime, my blood was still moving, my body was still working. Even though my thought process was broken down into "wow, you really suck at everything, so the only option I have for you is to lay in the dark in a ball of stress and wait for death" my body simply kept doing what it has been doing for years. Hanging in there with me.  Keeping me alive.  It's no secret that PTSD is fueled by fear, but fear itself is always an overcomplication of the simple biological need to stay alive.  To fear death.  When you feel that fear in overwhelming amounts for years on end, a few minutes laying on your bed and recognizing you are actually alive may seem silly, but it was what I needed.

I hope that others who have PTSD, or any other situation that makes them fearful or stunts their ability to reason themselves out of an ugly mood or Vietnam mode, have those moments. They don't change your life situation or make you a different person--my day was still absolutely difficult and I have no idea how I suffered through work until midnight--but do they help? More than even I probably realize. And they give me hope, which is probably the most important part.