livingwithablackdog

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Black Thumb 06/11/2011

Habits.  My life is full of them.  Good ones.  Bad ones.  Helpful ones.  Ones that I have resolved to end a hundred times over, yet continue with.  I have things that I do because I like to.  Things that I do because I have to.  Things that I do because that’s just what I’ve always done.  Some I maintain consciously, some unconsciously; and some are maintained by failing to maintain others.  Habits.

I spent yesterday afternoon pottering in the garden.  Among my many little chores I spent lifted bulbs from some pots.

Now, I am very new to gardening.  My once black thumbs are currently oscillating between a brown and occasionally get a very slight hint of green (until I forget to water the garden for a few days in a row).  There is no science going on – it’s all experimentation … almost.  I do occasionally look things up on the net.  After I write this post I will be looking up what you do with bulbs after you lift them.

Which brings me to the some of the reflections that I had yesterday as I waxed poetical in my head and got very grotty at the same time.

I have never grown plants that were bulbs before.  So this year was certainly an experiment.  Some grew and some did not.  I believe that I probably planted some upside down, but can’t confirm that.  I probably over-watered some … they rotted in the soil.  Others grew and didn’t bloom.  I am not keeping bulbs of plants that did not bloom.  Some grew and missed a few days water and got hot wind and died while others did quite well.  Some even made it to bouquets for friends.

Yesterday came to the beginning of stage two of my experiment with bulbs.  I went to the pots that held the plants that had bloomed that I had liked and decided to lift the bulbs.  Not quite sure of the correct procedure I began to burrow.  Now the first pot was not so difficult.  They were tulips.  The second pot I did just to get rid of the bulbs because I still wanted to keep the pot, but needed to get the bulbs out.  They too, were easy to find.  The daffodils gave me no trouble.  And then I came to these other plants – whose name I do not recall – but the bulbs were in little nests that were distributed unevenly around the planter box and while the upper couple of bulbs in the nest were of reasonable size there were also bundles of little balls – I assume new bulbs – that would often fall free and needed fishing for.  It took a lot of work to sift through this pot to lift the bulbs.

While I was doing this it struck me that If I were this thorough with everything, much of my life would be a lot simpler.  I would not have forgotten to take my medication yesterday morning had I refilled my dosette box when I emptied it.  I would not get weary looking at the mess in the kitchen as often if I were in the habit of cleaning up after myself as I went  more regularly.  I would be exercising regularly by now instead of simply planning to start within the next month.  I would not grow weary from lack of sleep.  In short, I would be more scrupulous about my habits.  Certainly it’s laborious.  Yet, there is a purpose to these habits the same as there is a purpose to my clearing the pot.  I am seeking to be in the best of health so that I can get on with living and doing other things.  Just as I was clearing the pot so that I could plant something new in it that would grow over the summer months.  There is a purpose to maintaining habits that are mundane that is anything but.

The second reflection came to me while I was battling one-handed with my bush rose whilst watering it.  I was attempting to remove the spent blooms – I’ve been taught to do that, but don’t do it regularly enough so there are lots at present.  They’re all over the bush.  Some of them were impossible to get to without doing battle with thorns while working one-handed.  Others, within reach while able to be grasped and eventually detached, were not easy to remove.  I also managed to get spiked by the tree regardless.  Ouch.  How different the bush rose was from the geraniums which simply slip off the plant with the slightest pull.

I am much more like the bush rose than the geranium when it comes to surrendering my bad habits.  How much simpler life would be if when I noticed that I needed to change I were able to simply let go of the old ways like my geraniums.  But, no.  For me it is work.  It requires effort and often shakes up the petals of some of the other flowers during the process.  Occasionally, not just the dead rose came off with the pulling, but some of the good ones beside as well.  I think my roses are very much like my habits.  They grow without effort and bloom.  Often they serve a good purpose, but then are no longer needed.  Other times they just are.  But when they are past their usefulness and deadweight, burdensome – they do need removing.  Sometimes it can be done while I’m doing other maintenance like the watering, but I think that I am going to have to go out soon and pull them off myself deliberately.  One at a time.  Not a job that I see as stimulating, but to encourage the bush to be productive and to keep it looking healthy it needs to be done.  Now I just need to take the same path with my troublesome habits and learn to tackle them one at a time and replace them with helpful ones.

Will I be as meticulous in dealing with my dead habits that are no longer blooming as I work at being with my flowers?  Will I dig and sift as thoroughly as I looked for my bulbs when it comes to removing them?

Again I set my resolve to commit to tackle my environment and not let it get out of control  (The kitchen, living area and study are cluttered again and the floors are past cleaning time).  My dosette box should never be left empty – I used to be good with that.  There are a number of other things that I need to sit down and map out.

Which plant holds the flowers that are hardest to remove in your garden?  Just how carefully are you prepared to dig out your bulbs?

I think I still have black thumbs in the habit garden and it’s time to green up.  What colour are your thumbs?

It's loaded now!

 

Arch-Enemies 02/11/2011

Do you have arch-enemies?

I do.  Mine haunts me.  I can never seem to beat it.

There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win.  It feels great.  I could walk on air.

Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky.  I could fly.

And then

it all comes

crashing

down

in

a

great

big

thud.

OUCH!

And it’s not just me who is affected.

It’s not a small thing with small consequences.

What happens, you ask?

Okay I’ll ‘fess up.

I don’t wake up.  Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.

Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.

And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours.  It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home.  It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me.  I nearly lost my last job over it.  Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time.  I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.

And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times.  It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.

Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful.  I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot.  But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.

The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings.  I do.  Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.

I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness.  If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks.  But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it.  It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it.  But I need to get up.

Sleepy-head

At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first.  Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people.  It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily.  Has anybody ever used one?

I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day.  I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.

Take your meds at the same time every day.  I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem.  There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.

Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet.  Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.

So here it is.  My arch-enemy.  The alarm clock.  That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up.  To get moving.  To get started with the day.

Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?

 

The Wall with a Hole in it … 30/09/2011

And I’m not talking ATM.
Have you ever felt yourself to be up against that dragon that you were never destined to slay?  That worm you’ll never be early enough to get? The one that leaves you feeling like the Emperor in all his glory when he set out in grand style to show off his ‘new clothes’ just when you think you’ve gotten a hold on it.

My nemesis is time.  Not just any time – although we have a slippery time keeping pace with each other continually.  No, the ultimate battle is drawn around the time of sleep and waking.  Here I am repeatedly mauled by my dragon, eaten by the worm and left with nothing but the Emperor’s new clothes to show for all the effort that I have made to conquer the struggle.  I feel as though I am beating my head against a brick wall.

What happens you ask?

I set an alarm clock.  Actually I set two alarm clocks ten minutes apart.  I do not trust myself with one.  I have been known to turn one off in my sleep!  I set one to raise my level of consciousness and the other to wake me.  For most of the year this is adequate.  But then comes the changing of the guard – it starts to get light earlier or later in the spring or autumn and for several weeks my dog hides the alarm clocks.  He must.  Some nights anyway – because they sure as hell don’t wake me.  But then I also have trouble in getting to sleep – so maybe it’s not all the dog’s fault.  At times I sleep no more than an hour or two a night.  Others I may get to sleep and then wake up at two in the afternoon – ON A WORK DAY!  This year I thought that I was winning at work until the seasonal sleep monster set in.

Right now I feel like I am beating my head against a brick clock.  In getting to sleep.  In waking up.  In getting to work.  My psychiatrist has given me something to try for the short-term (ie 4-6 weeks) as it’s a regular pattern and struggle and part of a bigger picture of short-term seasonal change in my mood.  It’s not a relapse – just a dip.  But oh so disappointing because its been so stable for so long.  In lots of ways I think I could handle it if the sleep didn’t go out the window.  It’s started to affect my work though, so I’m taking the medical option this time.  Maybe next time I’ll be able to have the personal strategies down strongly enough to manage it without boosting my meds for a few weeks – but I need to prioritise keeping my job over my pride for this time.  I may have to wake up and phone in to work in the Emperor’s new clothes.  I do not have to parade through the streets in them.

Bloody Dog.

Damn Clock.

So for now I get my sleep under control.  I keep my mood stable with a little extra help than usual until the season settles.  At least I will be able to keep the dog in his place.  At least I will stop messing things up so badly in getting to work.  It will only be for a few weeks and then its back to the normal cocktail that I’ve accepted will be a part of everyday.  Back to using my ‘personal medicine’ or lifestyle strategies to manage life and its stressors.  Then I get summer to strengthen my other skills and to be ready for autumn when it comes.  Perhaps I will plan a short increase in meds again.  Perhaps I will plan time off work.  Perhaps I will be enough on top of my sleep to manage it with flying colours.

My Dog loves the twilight of the seasons.  He thinks its play time.  He loves the dawn.  He dances while I wake.

Oh to be able to open one eye and say in my firmest voice.

“Sit. Dog.  Sit!”

And have confidence that he’d obey.

One day.  One day he will.  One day I am determined to slay that dragon.

One day.

 

I wanna be a … 18/09/2011

Jetson!

Are you old enough to know The Jetsons, I wonder?  Most are, surely.

I’m not after the groovy little space-sedan.

I’m not even in it so much for the robot house keeper – although I would certainly NOT turn her away …

I want the bed that tips you out when you need to get up, stands you up and puts you on a conveyor belt to the shower and gets you started for the day.

I swear, that has got to be the hardest part of the day!  I’m okay once I’m showered and dressed for the day – but until that point it is all up hill.

On work days I don’t trust myself with less than two alarm clocks.  I’ve been known to turn alarm clocks off in my sleep.  I figure that one will at least bring me out of deep sleep and the second can wake me if the first doesn’t.  I don’t keep at least one near my bed.  I make sure that I need to touch floor to turn it off.  I also make sure it’s a really noxious sound so that I don’t just let it keep going.

One thing that I don’t do that a lot of people say works well for them is put out my clothes the night before.  I have tried it a few times, but tend to finish up thinking that I don’t feel like wearing what I put out and finish up dithering over what I do want to wear.  That said – it would probably work fine on work days if I kept it up – so I should try it again.

I also tend to waste a lot of time putting off getting to the shower (especially in winter) puttering around the house.  Alas! This just makes me late.

Oh for an alarm clock that tipped the mattress 45 degrees and dumped me on the floor with a bang if I reached for a snooze button!

Drat the need for motivation, will power, decent routine & bedtimes, discipline in lights out and organisation in the morning.

But then again, if I have been eating well, doing exercise, working, and going to bed at a decent hour I am likely to have been refreshed by sleep and find it easier (note that the word here is “easier” and NOT necessarily “easy”) to wake and rise.  Perhaps key to my struggle with rising in the mornings is my lack of discipline in other areas – most obviously in getting to bed at a decent hour reliably, but also exercising regularly.  I would also have more energy if my diet included more fruit and vegetables.

So many things to fine tune.

I still envy George Jetson.

 

My Pyjamas 07/09/2011

I know better.  I really, really do.  There are good reasons why it’s not uncommon to find me in my pyjamas long after I get up.  Really …

Firstly they are comfortable.  Soft fabric, loose, warm, cosy.  In summer soft and breezy.

They’re warm (it’s still cool down here in the Southern hemisphere)

I’d need to take them off and be unwarm for a little while to get dressed.

I don’t feel like having a shower and all that yet (today is my day off).  Too much effort.

I’m not sure what I want to wear later today and am not that motivated to choose at the moment because it really doesn’t matter.

I’m at home.

They’re home and relaxing kind of feeling things.

Nobody else is going to see me.

I LIKE my pyjamas!

It saves washing???

Smell? What smell? …  ohh! you mean the one that’s following me when I do this for three days in a row without changing?

But that’s not me today.  Today’s my day off.  Lots of people mooch around in their PJs late into the morning on their day off.  Yet, only last week I was recalling that this behaviour – when habitual is one of my warning signs.How do I know the difference?  In truth – I don’t.  At least, I’ve missed the warning signs until too late enough times that I know that I’m not yet able to reliably spot the difference.  What can I do?

The first option is to not let myself stay in my PJs after getting up whatever the day – rather to go straight for the shower or get dressed as soon as I get up.  Reality is that I don’t really put a serious start to the day while I’m still in my PJs – and I need to move past the ‘getting up’ phase of the day earlier than I do much of the time.

The second is that I time limit it and say that I need to be out of my PJs by a certain time.  I’m thinking of taking this one up.  Which means the next thing that I need to do is head for the shower because it has passed that time already.

Wish me luck.

 

Attishoo! Attishoo! We All Fall Down 31/08/2011

What’s going on?

I’ve got a headache that I’ve had on and off for a few days now.  I’m so tired so much of the time.  I’m disorganised.  My house is a mess and getting less clean than I’d like it to be – it’s not grotty, but without action it could get there without a lot of effort … I’ve spent the last couple of days off loafing in my ever comfy PJs and while I’ve gotten up and done stuff, I’m sure I said ages ago that I was going to stop doing that…

Hang on.  These things are all among my early warning signs.  I’m off my game.  Nothing serious yet – but now is the time to act.  I’ve been going really well for ages.  It’s not even my Depression that’s knocked me off my game – it’s the damn cold that I’ve been fighting.  Yet this I do know.  In the past relapse has often followed physical illness.  The dog acts when he knows I’m not at my best.  He takes advantage of weakness.

So what do I do now?  Give in? Panic?  Book an extra doctor’s appointment?  Nope.  Now is the time to reach for my WRAP – my Wellness Recovery Action Plan – something that I should probably be going over more regularly to remind myself of the daily and weekly/regular things that keep me well.  In my WRAP I found that I’ve been neglecting a lot of these over the last couple of weeks and that I have gotten sloppy with a couple of my routine maintenance markers over the past couple of months.  My work WRAP (my own experiment) shows me that I’ve not been sticking to my wellness goals about leaving on time and planning my day either – no wonder I’ve been feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck.

Now is the time to restart the action plans.  I need to tell someone that I’ve noticed that I’m off my game and that I’m acting on it – that way they can ask me how I am going with my action plan in a couple of days to see if I need some help to get things moving again or if I’ve been able to self-start again solo (often harder than I think it’s going to be).  I’ll wait to see how things progress and talk it over with my friend before I rush into moving any appointments forward.  I think I’m okay if I get reorganised at this point.

So its back to setting alarms and keeping them for going to bed and lights out at night.  I’ve been letting the sleep run thin.

I need to plan my meals rather than look in the fridge and hope that there’s something I feel like eating in there.  And I probably need to start putting more attention towards the balance of what I eat because I don’t think I’m eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables (that’s a new strand to the plan for me).

I need to put away the things that are lying around and creating clutter.

I need to clean the house.  When that goes to my list though it will read room by room and the floors will be separate.  That way I can do it in parts and feel like I’m making headway when I cross things off on my list.

I need to set up a routine for maintaining my housework.

I need to set aside time for doing things that I like to do.

I need to work out how I want to prioritise a couple of things that I have going at the moment so that I can put away what I am not going to finish in the immediate future and finish off what I am doing in my ‘projects’ department.

I need to set aside time for some meditation and prayer.

I need to make sure I leave work on time.

I need to make better use of my diary and go back to keeping a list of things that I need to do to mark off and prioritise – this works well for me

I also really need to put some effort into starting to exercise and to spending more time outdoors.

If I need help with anything, I can and will ask.

I’ve been good with most of my other stuff but things involving routine, and doing things that I’m not instinctively motivated by (like exercise and cooking for anything other than guests) are difficult.  It may get easier.  Who knows?  My goal is to find something that I enjoy in the things that I find difficult to do at some point – but not now.  Now the need is to just do it.

We all fall down.  We all need to know the best way to get up again too.  Take the time to be prepared.  I use the WRAP (http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com/wrap/ .  You can now download an old edition of this from “Recovery X-Change” http://www.recoveryxchange.org/downloads/RxChange%20WRAP%20WorkBook.pdf  if you want to check it out a bit more closely).  There are a number of different systems people have.  The most important thing is to be ready to be ready.

All I have is a cold.  It does not have to become a relapse.

Right now though it’s approaching bed time.  So rather than editing anything else.  I’m going to post this and head for the sack.  Good night.

 

The Best Bucket For Fishing In 27/08/2011

I have been cleaning out my study over the last couple of days – no small job – I have been putting it off for a long time.  I unearthed a lot of rubbish, a tonne of reading, receipts, filing, thankfully nothing that should have been included in my tax (which I have done already this year – yay me!) and my bucket list that I did for my Psychologist earlier in the year.

Why a bucket list?

I had been depressed on and off for years.  When I was well I had only just been coping with no room for anything but putting one foot in front of the other.  It had been a long time since I had really allowed myself to cast my eyes very far into the future.  It was hard to do.  My life had become so tied up in looking after the dog and keeping him out of the way so that I could manage walking that it was hard to picture anything else.  This is not a healthy way to live!

Maybe not – but everyone knows that we need to get through each day – so what’s the point of looking any further?

My first response to this would be to give you a reason to stick to the fundamentals that feel so arduous when times are tough.  The healthy lifestyle, the sleep, the medication, the self management strategies that you’ve chosen to compliment your medical treatment (see my post Beyond Medicine) can feel like such a chore at times, and there are days when you question if your daily struggles are all that important.  Things that have some value and potential to motivate you are important.

My second is that a routine is strongly recommended, but often hard to fill out.  An exercise like doing a bucket list may give some clues to your interests or things that you could start even now to use time doing something that you are more likely to consider worthwhile.

Thirdly, if you are getting well and your health is stable, but you’re a bit lost about what you want to do – this is a great way to brainstorm ideas that you can later use to figure out what direction you want to work towards and what sort of goals you want to set for yourself.  You can also look at the different sort of things you have put on your list and use it to try to make sure you keep some balance to your goals so that you can target a balanced lifestyle that reflects you.

Fourthly, if you are struggling to stay well and all that you are focussing on your health or perhaps your health and keeping your job – perhaps you can use it to choose one thing to help with relaxation and/or re-energising.  Often – and I speak from several years of experience here – this is neglected to our detriment when expanding our support network and finding opportunities elsewhere for success would improve our workplace performance and keep the dog in his place much more effectively.

Not sure what you’d put on it?  Try meeting up with a friend and do bucket lists together (I met up with a couple of different people).  This helps stretch your ideas until you start freeing up your mind.  Read past journals if you have some if you used to write about things you’d like to do one day.  Be as vague or specific as you like – it’s your list.

Here are some of the things on my list:

Bushwalking

Make a pretty garden

Redo a house

Teach professional practice skills

Overcome Depression and Anxiety to the point where they no longer require any intervention – even meds

Stay well

To make sure I keep up friendships and make new ones

To grow wise but be humble

To be physically fit and able to run without getting puffed out

To get good at being organised and reliable

To learn lots of interesting things eg Ancient Greek, Ancient & modern History, Latin, Languages, Leadlighting, Aromatherapy, Sciences, making things, gardening, writing and publication industry, professional development and research, theology …

Write a book and publish it

Write a children’s book, get it illustrated and publish it

Go to Scotland, Ireland and Canada and see lots of other places too

Learn Piano

Write a song

Learn to play Cello and/or an alto/tenor woodwind instrument

Research and develop useful intervention strategy for use in Mental Health Recovery – meaningful to and valued by consumers – well weighted by evidence

Learn to tap dance

Build a doll house

Act in a stage performance

There’s a tonne of others that I’m not going to share and I’ve simplified a lot of these.  But they have made way for goals and routine and positive steps.

There are six major themes among the things in my bucket:

Creativity

Learning

Relationships

Social Responsibility/contributing to others

Travel/adventure

Growth (language, fitness etc)

My challenge is to have something – one thing at a time among my goals that touches on each of these areas.  I also try to include something of each – at least most – in my routine.

The steps to some dreams are appealing.  The way to others not so much.  The keys are choice, balance and timing.

Never let the dog stop you from dreaming.  Sure, be careful not to get stuck in them – but be careful not to lose sight of the things that you’d like to do or some day.  These are the things that give you a reason to put your next foot forward.  These are the things that make it matter that the dog stays out of your path.  These are the things that help you choose which direction you walk in.  These are the things that make it matter that it’s you and not the dog that does the choosing.

Look where you are going.  Move deliberately.  Walk one step at a time if you must during the hard times, catching your balance and calling the dog back to heel in between.   Don’t let him draw you down to wrestle with him while you walk.  When you stop looking where you are going, the dog has the upper paw.  Shorten the leash.  Keep him close.  Don’t give him an inch.

Heel, Dog.  Heel!

 

 
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