A Learning Machine

A Be-Bot!

WoebotRecently, I started using a chatbot that a friend of a friend programmed. ¬†This chatbot works with Facebook Messenger and is clinically proven to help improve depression and anxiety in as little as 2 weeks. It’s called Woebot.

Since Henry is a big fan of robots, every time he sees my phone light up with the Woebot icon, he gets excited and shouts, “BE-BOT, MOMMY! BE-BOT!” For that reason alone, I’ll keep using it. ūüôā

Anyway, I was initially drawn to Woebot because it only takes a few minutes of time per day, and it contacts you, at the same time every day, to keep you doing the work. I was already doing my own thing with Happiness is Homemade, and I’d been considering creating an app to do the same thing on my phone, since printing stuff up and writing things out is occasionally a pain in my butt. I thought I’d check out Woebot to see if creating an app was even worth my time. ¬†(It is, but not because Woebot doesn’t fit the bill.)

Anyway, day before yesterday, Woebot brought up the topics of labels and mindsets. ¬†I was aware that labeling is irrational. It’s an automatic negative thought. I just wasn’t aware of how frequently I still engage in it. ¬†Mindsets, on the other hand, I was ignorant about. (And for a “smart” person, feeling ignorant is mighty uncomfortable.)

Here’s the 10 minute video that Woebot encouraged me to watch. ¬†I strongly encourage you to watch it as well. It could change the way you think about yourself and life in general.

I lived with a fixed mindset most of my life. And, if I’m honest, I’m currently struggling to change to a growth mindset… but the struggle is good.

Fixed Mindsets Waste Gifts

When I was a freshman at Berklee and saw that there were so many musicians who I perceived to be better than me, I stopped trying in earnest to be a performer.

Seriously, the last time I performed music outside of a classroom setting–other than karaoke or singing along at Gymboree– was in high school. ¬†That’s really fucked up for a person who was in all-state choir and regional honor bands all 4 years in percussion, if you think about it. Going to a world-renowned music school should mean you make more music, not less… but should statements are irrational garbage too.

Anyway — I had no idea that what I was butting up against was a fixed mindset. I believed I was “smart” and “a good musician.” ¬†This meant that I couldn’t allow myself to be in positions that could prove otherwise.

When I didn’t do well in my Intro to Film Scoring class, I switched to a Music Business major. When I couldn’t do vocal sight-singing or ear training without playing everything at a piano, I learned every piece at the piano by myself so no one else would know that I couldn’t just sing the songs from looking at the page. My embarrassment was painful and intense.

I cheated myself out of so much growth there because I didn’t want anyone to know that I wasn’t good enough. Truth is: I couldn’t emotionally handle that I needed to struggle so much. I had always needed to work hard at improving my chops, but having to work hard to keep up with a class was foreign to me. ¬†I had always excelled academically. It was part of my identity.

I thought that because music transcription and reading was so difficult for me, it was a sign that I just wasn’t meant for it. I allowed my mindset to close the door on something that I loved. ¬†After seeing the talent that was all around me, all the time, I figured that music, no matter how much I loved making it, wasn’t for me. ¬†And I didn’t even realize I was making a choice.

Music business was easy. It made sense, even if it could be misogynistic, cutthroat, and terribly ageist. So, I stopped making myself do the hard stuff, and I worked on a business plan… and on a ton of unpaid internships for internet radio dot coms that no longer exist. (When I think about how much I could have earned if I were given even minimum wage, it makes me sick at my stomach.)

Fast forward to adulthood and every time I had to face what I perceived to be an unforgivable failure — one that made me question my worth and identity — I became suicidal to the point of needing hospitalization.

The Gift Of Disability

Being diagnosed with seizure disorder caused by MS was a low point in my life, for sure. But I got used to having seizures. I got used to not being able to work a full-time job. I got used to my identity baseline being “not good enough.” And that was immensely freeing.

I decided that since I wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations (least of all my own), I ought to change my expectations and try harder to make myself proud. And that’s what I’m doing now.

It’s not easy being a mother. It’s not easy sounding like shit on guitar or piano every time I play. It’s not easy learning Japanese on my cell phone or going to the gym 3-5 times a week whether I’m having seizures or not. It’s not easy to play make-believe with my son when I’m as pragmatic as I am. It’s certainly not easy to make myself proud.

But I’m doing the work… so someday, the things that are hard right now might be easy.

If I don’t, it’s like telling myself that it’s okay to be bitter and sad and unhappy with my appearance and life forever. And that’s bullshit. I’d rather choose struggle than familiar misery.

Besides, I won’t have any good stories to tell if I don’t choose worthy conflicts.

What are YOU struggling with today?

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Well, duh.

You know, there are days when I realize that for however smart I was in grade school, that may well be how completely clueless I am as an adult about common sense things.

smart-vs-dumb

Gorgeous, either way, though, right?

See, I’ve been living in Orland Hills, IL for a little over a year now. ¬†The town is so small that in order to use public transportation, you actually have to call a phone number more than 24 hours in advance and set up your ride. ¬†It’s like paratransit, but for everybody.

When we moved here, I walked over to the town hall to get all of our paperwork in order, and I was told by some of the ladies who work there¬†that I couldn’t bring my baby on the bus because they don’t allow car seats. ¬†Thus began my year of walking everywhere and having absolutely crushing stir-craziness in the winter, wondering how I would make it until my son turned 8.

Well, today, I had enough of it. ¬†It’s gorgeous outside (but -5 degrees wind chill), and despite having time travel seizures yesterday, I decided I was tired of feeling like a middle schooler who was impatiently waiting for one of her friends to get a drivers license. I decided to ask the hivemind — my friends on FB and the folks in one of the local parenting groups on there.

And do you know what they suggested? A taxi service.

benny

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me earlier, and I feel totally dumb for not thinking of it. It’s so simple and straightforward that it makes my head hurt.

For some reason, I thought that since we’re living in the suburbs, we wouldn’t have access to taxis out here… but we do! I even¬†thought, “Hey! Uber might work!” but riding in an Uber with a baby and his car seat only works if the Uber driver is cool with it — and most of them aren’t. (Who can blame them? If my baby pukes, Uber’s not gonna clean it up for them, and if we are in an accident, the liability for them is too great.)

So, one of the ladies in the parenting group suggested a specific driver who works with her elderly mom, and I’m going to be giving him a call tomorrow.

I’m tired of feeling like less than an adult, simply because I can’t get where I want to go when I want to go. Henry deserves to go to the library, regularly. He deserves to go on playdates. He deserves a life outside of this house, and a mommy who has more self-esteem than I do right now.

Cabbing it might seem kinda costly, but I’m going to do everything I can to remind myself, when I’m feeling too cheap to give us freedom, that if I had a car, I’d be paying more for gas, maintenance, licensing, and insurance. Not to mention how much we’ll save on psychological therapy in the coming years for me and Henry. (No agoraphobia allowed!)

So, I’m now looking very forward to going¬†to pilates or yoga classes during the day at our gym like I’ve wanted to for so long. I’m going to make friends here and be a functional member of this community. I’m going to stop using my inability to drive as a reason to feel sorry for myself. I’m taking back at least some of the freedom I’ve unconsciously given to seizure disorder.


On a completely different note, I was approached by an employee of Earnest a few weeks ago who asked me to write an entry on holiday budgeting.¬†Over the course of our emails it appeared that they wanted me to suggest to my readers that they refinance their student loans. They didn’t offer me any compensation to promote them, so my link above exists out of nothing more than goodwill towards someone who may have read one of my entries, but who definitely has a tough job if they’re trying to get sporadic writers like me to pimp their product.

Anyway, I have a ton of tips that I would be happy to share about how I personally save money, but I also have a massive amount of respect for my small and dedicated group of readers. I don’t believe that y’all care one iota about reading about that sort of thing¬†here. ¬†If I’m wrong, let me know, and I’ll happily write it up for you.

Hope everyone’s feeling well, and that 2017 isn’t half the shitshow that the Great Dumpster Fire of 2016 was.

2016dumpsterfire

#11 is free, right?

Looking for Answers

Welp, the ultrasound didn’t show any stones… but it did show fat deposits on my liver. Now, I have to go get an MRI (w/ and w/out contrast) of my liver so that my gastroenterologist can figure out whether or not I have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. I’m 99% sure that I have it, because it would explain the pain in my upper right abdomen… and if I don’t, then who the fuck knows. I’m all about some answers.

For those of you playing along at home, this is my current medical condition.

  1. Multiple Sclerosis
  2. Seizure Disorder
  3. Hypertension
  4. High Triglycerides/Cholesterol
  5. GERD
  6. Gastritis
  7. Colitis
  8. Postpartum Depression
  9. PTSD

I joked with Adam that NAFLD would be #10, so my punch card should be full and #11 will be free. ¬†He didn’t laugh. Probably because I haven’t made a punch card yet… but I might, just to keep myself laughing. I keep looking on the¬†bright side. No stones means no gallbladder surgery.

The first line of treatment both for high triglycerides/cholesterol and NAFLD is to lose weight, a minimum of 10% of total body weight over 6 months. (So, for me, that would be 21 pounds.) In theory, that’s totally doable. ¬†I honestly would *love* to lose weight. ¬†I’ve been trying for years now with no success. ¬†It doesn’t matter if I’m on the paleo diet or not. Or if I’m active or not. Or if I’m both paleo and weightlifting. ¬†Even pregnancy didn’t change my weight by more than 15 pounds.

Fortunately, at the beginning of May, I’ll actually finally be seeing an endocrinologist, and hopefully, she’ll be able to help me figure things out. ¬†I mean, someone’s got to be able to help. ¬†I don’t want to die from a heart attack (triglycerides/cholesterol), a stroke (hypertension), or liver failure (NAFLD) – all of which are caused by my being overweight. I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary.

In the meantime, Adam and I are getting back to the gym starting today. Being active never hurts. We took about a month off because Adam burnt his hand terribly on a hot pan, and I was having tons of seizures because of tummy troubles and hormone imbalances. ¬†I’m not expecting magic or anything, but I’m really looking forward to just going for a 30 minute walk on the treadmill if nothing else. I hate being as sedentary as I have been. I’m tired of my tummy hurting, and I’m tired of feeling gross.

12963873_10209025515017754_2491198053406512411_nOn a totally different note…

I was lucky enough that my mom came in for 10 days to help out and hang out with me and Henry while Adam was in and out of town for work. ¬†I always appreciate my mom’s help, and am honestly flabbergasted at where she gets her energy. ¬†To be honest, I’m ridiculously jealous. The lady’s 22 years older than me, and runs circles around me. She cooks and cleans and gets on the floor with the kiddo and doesn’t bat an eyelash…whereas I have given myself numerous mental high-fives just for remembering to transfer the laundry last night.

She also takes great pictures of her grandbaby. Here’s Henry in his Graco Bumper Jumper. He’s too tall for it, but he still can’t get enough. I’m really looking forward to Mom and Dad putting together his rocking horse for his birthday.

Celebrations

Speaking of… Adam’s birthday is tomorrow and Henry’s birthday is in 2 weeks, and I really haven’t done anything¬†to prepare. Yes, I bought Adam a present, but he already got it – so that’s sorta anticlimactic. ¬† And as for Henry… I have got¬†to get my shit together.

Ilovetrash

Patterned tableware is 50% off at Party City right now. ¬†I just have to force myself to stop being such a lazy curmudgeon. I’m like, “How the fuck are these paper plates this¬†expensive¬†even when they’re on sale? I can get 100 plain white paper plates for the cost of 8 of these ‘Wild at One’ plates, on sale. ¬†Why do we need a tablecloth and paper cups? ¬†Will he even CARE if I make him a smash cake? He can’t eat solids other than purees yet, and he won’t have any memory of it… It’s all just gonna be garbage!”

And then I have to remind myself that this is 100% postpartum depression talking. It’s the same inner voice that has dealt out other helpful advice such as, “Henry and Adam would have more money and be better off without you. You should just kill yourself.” I don’t listen to that voice. I treat it like the mental flatulence it is – odious¬†and ephemeral.

Equally ephemeral… the quiet solitude of naptime. ¬†Kiddo’s been down for almost an hour, so I’m gonna see if I can get a few things done before he stirs, and it’s time for me to feed him lunch.

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My one real talent: Getting Henry to sleep. 

 

*waves*

Hey there.

Life’s been crazy. I have been writing – just not on this blog. I’ve been writing here.

modern-day-ms

Here’s a link to my most recent stuff.

I was actually just featured in an interview on that site yesterday.

Love That Hugabug!

hugabug

Henry is growing like crazy. 10 months old, wearing size “18 month” clothes. He’s babbling all the time, blowing raspberries, and pulling himself up on furniture. He’s so close to walking that I’m trying my best to appreciate how easy it is to keep up with him these days.

I’ve started working on planning his 1st birthday party, which will be a joint party with his Grandpa (my dad), since they share a birthday weekend. ¬†I think I’m actually more excited about my parents, my brother and his awesome wife coming in town to celebrate than I am about the fact that we managed to make it a full year without accidentally killing our beautiful, amazing baby. Being a parent is hard, yo.

I’m a mess, but I’m doing my best.

My health has been¬†frustrating and upsetting, so I’ve been doing my best¬†to minimize the struggle while responsibly handling it.

I believe I had an early miscarriage a couple of months ago. I’m usually very regular, but had a couple of¬†very faint positive pregnancy tests and then didn’t bleed for 50+ days. ¬†When I did get my period, it was the heaviest, most awful period¬†I’ve ever had. ¬†Dr. Dad thinks I might have just missed a period. He said it happens all the time, and not to worry about it. Adam has decided Dad’s right, so I’ve jumped on the “don’t mourn something that never was” bandwagon with my conscious mind and have been dealing with terrible depression and nightmares because of the choice to repress my feelings of guilt and sadness. I see my therapist on Saturday, thankfully.

Of course, just afterwards, I had a MS relapse, complete with tons of seizures, neuropathic pain in my legs, muscle spasms, and tingling/burning on various parts of my back. A medrol dose pack seems to have done the trick to quiet most of it. Come to think of it, it’s been almost 6 years without a drip — so that’s pretty good, I guess.

My stomach is still up to its shenanigans, reminding me after almost every meal that eating is not a good idea… and that’s despite my gastroenterologist doubling the amount of Prilosec I take. I am scheduled for an upper and lower GI scope on St. Patrick’s Day. ¬†(Fun, right?)

After 2 years of not seeing a dentist for a myriad of reasons, I finally went in for a cleaning and exam. I have 2 cavities to get filled this month as well, in 2 separate visits.

I honestly don’t remember the last time that I went to the gym to work out (though I did see a nutritionist), and today, I’m fantasizing about finding a chiropractor because my neck is super-sore from my head dropping thanks to seizures. Unintentional headbanging FTW. Honestly, I’m tired of hurting. Apparently, not tired enough to use my foam roller, but just enough to think about it and then whine to myself you.

cantwin

The bright spot in the health area is that I finally got glasses. ¬†They’re cute and helpful. I had no idea how badly I needed them! ¬†I now look forward to the day when Henry stops wanting to rip them off my face and throw them. I’m sure that will eventually happen someday.

12802977_10153932000039522_8111415572072856692_n

Anyway, that’s all for now. The little one is stirring, and I need to change and feed him. ¬†Hope you’re having a good day! Be well!

Slightly more effective than whining to myself.

A long time ago, I started keeping a journal online. Back in 2001, LiveJournal was all the rage with the group of friends I had made during high school. I loved it. I wrote all the time, about any little thing that came into my head, and so did most of my friends. I was always excited to read what they had written because it made me feel close to them, even though we were miles apart from one another.

I kept that online journal¬†through the end of college, through my entire first marriage, and even through law school. ¬†That blog was responsible for me making some of the best friends I’ve ever had, as well as learning a lot about myself, mostly because I had absolutely no verbal filter on there whatsoever.¬†I never considered¬†how I was publicizing my emotional garbage or how it affected anyone else. I just wrote — raw and honestly. And there was a sort of freedom in that. A kind of validation that I was able to give myself. It was proof that what I thought and how I felt mattered. I miss writing with that kind of abandon, but I also value the restraint that I’ve learned to have with my words.

Words can hurt or they can strengthen. They can inspire and they can thwart dreams. ¬†They can foster intimacy, and they can degrade reputations. Words have power. But so does silence. And when I’m silent, it usually means I’m either terribly busy or that something’s wrong.

Over the years, I’ve chronicled some serious stuff here. Some deeply painful emotional growth, struggles with disease, diet, mental health and, sure, even some random bullshit. But at least I was writing.

These days, with a 3 month old, it’s hard to do much of anything. It’s hard to get restful sleep. It’s hard to remember to eat full meals. It’s hard to go to the bathroom without feeling guilty, to remember to brush my teeth every morning, to shower regularly. But mostly, it’s hard to be creative.

It’s both hard to find time to write, and harder, when I¬†get some “free” time, to find the words to discuss what’s on my¬†mind without breaking down and crying. ¬†The only way out is through, and someday, God-willing, I’ll feel like myself again. I just have a feeling it’s going to take a lot of effort.

And, yes, I’m very well aware that this is textbook postpartum depression. I’ve seen my therapist, and she’s basically said that I’m handling it as well as anyone can. ¬†She said that PPD creates¬†ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) on steroids. To be clear: I’m not actually the worst mother ever, ever. ¬†But we all knew that. Postpartum depression has been written about exhaustively.

You know what hasn’t been written about? ¬†How totally shitty it is to be a decent writer and to be reading absolute garbage to your kid repeatedly.

Every day, I read books to my beautiful son. He loves them. His eyes light up, and he smiles the moment a book comes out. ¬†He doesn’t light up when I bring out my laptop and read stories¬†out loud. He actually cares about the paper in my hand, and his happiness makes me smile, so I spend a lot of time flipping pages and accidentally giving myself paper cuts.

Sadly, these books are terrible, people. They’re 5-10 pages long at most, and each page has maybe 2 lines. More often than not, those lines rhyme in a sing-song fashion. ¬†And beyond rhyming, they teach basic stuff that in today’s day and age don’t matter one iota.

Who cares that the cow goes “moo?” when you’re more than likely never going to spend any time whatsoever with a cow? We are not an agricultural society anymore. Why are we teaching kids about livestock?

Why, if you’re reading about “all the thinks you can think,” would you challenge a baby to imagine places and things that don’t exist (and never have), when they’re still trying to get a basic grasp on the world around them? ¬†I mean, he doesn’t even know what “blue” means yet. I’d love to challenge him to imagine a lake¬†rather than “a day in DaDake.” He¬†doesn’t know what “day” is yet. But who’s allowed to rip on Dr. Seuss? It’s blasphemy. The guy was a genius, and most of his books are amazing. I guess I’m lacking proper respect.

So, yeah, I find myself getting irrationally angry and frustrated with children’s baby literature, but even more irrationally angry with myself. ¬†I am constantly thinking, “I could write something better than that!” And yet, when I sit to write something, I think the most unhelpful thoughts – like “What¬†if this has been done already?” or “Am I wasting my time? I could be making myself something to eat. Is this a good use of my time?”

It’s a sort of writer’s block that I can only compare to how I have dealt with music. ¬†And I’ve dealt with music very, very poorly. I mean, I graduated from¬†Berklee College of Music and studied voice, but I don’t perform with anyone, anywhere, ever. It’s not like you can go to karaoke when you have a newborn, and when I sing at home, I have a hard time silencing my inner critic. WTF is that about? Not helpful, ever. It’s not like Henry has anyone to judge me against or that a 3 month old would have the audacity or even the ability to be shitty to a mom singing him lullabyes.

And God help me if I consider spending any time with my piano or guitar. Even before I’ve tried, it’s like, “Have you ever taken a lesson in your life, Rae? (Only several years worth.) Not sure why it’s like I don’t know a damn thing.” I don’t have any idea what I’m actually afraid of, but it legit feels like panic and fear. I remember sounding bad for years to get to sound good. Why should I be so impatient with myself now?

So, yeah, I’m creatively constipated. That’s the only way I can describe it. I desperately want to make music¬†and write new songs. I wholeheartedly want to create children’s books that Henry will find helpful and that will show the world that there’s some value to my existence… but I can’t seem to do shit. (Pun intended.)

At least,¬†I can blog while my husband and child sleep. ¬†Because blogging is basically whining to yourself. You just happen to let the whole world see it, and that accountability counts for something. It’s not high art, but it’s a damn sight better than being silent.

Mostly Better

It’s been a week. My last entry happened on a day when I had more than 20 seizures. I’ve learned that if I’m that incapacitated by seizures, I’m definitely¬†having an MS relapse. I called my neurologist to follow up, and he called in a medrol dose pack on Friday afternoon. The effect was damn near instant. Thursday: 20+ seizures, Friday prior to meds: 13 seizures (I took the first day’s worth after dinner), Saturday: 0 seizures. NONE. Not one.

I wish I could say that I haven’t had any since Saturday, but that wouldn’t be true. Yesterday I had a couple, but they were simple partials (facial twitches), so I’m not worried about them. I’ve come to the point in my experience having seizure disorder¬†where 1-2 simple partial seizures a day doesn’t feel like any big deal to me at all. Today, so far, I’m good. Maybe that means that tomorrow I can get back to the gym. I’d really like that.

Doing The Right Thing

Sometimes, I do the right thing without even realizing that I’m doing it. It always makes me smile when that happens. Take that letter that I wrote myself last week, for example. Apparently, science has proven that writing yourself compassionate letters is good for your mental health. It stops you from ruminating on the negative and allows you to take positive action. (Like taking a much-needed nap!)

Today, I’m doing my best not to ruminate on an irrational concept that a friend brought up in reference to herself. She said that she didn’t want to live a mediocre life.

A Mediocre Life? There’s No Such Thing.

For whatever reason, reading the¬†phrase “living a mediocre life”¬†felt like a punch in the chest. The idea that I might be living what she considered to be a mediocre life stuck in my craw. What upset me worse was the idea that I might think that I’m living a mediocre life.

I mean, I spend most of my days alone in an apartment, doing household chores and participating on social media. ¬†It’s not exactly the stuff of legend. ¬†Back in the day, before seizures, I used to be much more social and was very career-driven. But does a change from that way of being¬†mean that my life is second-rate or ordinary? Since when has anything about me been ordinary?

Truth be told, I spent a significant¬†amount of time in therapy wrestling with the question of why I’m even alive, if I’m not doing anything important. The answer to that question was remarkably simple: Because it’s better than the alternative! And, besides, how am I supposed to accurately know what is or isn’t “important” in the grand scheme of Life, The Universe, and Everything? That requires a level of objectivity that¬†no¬†human¬†can possibly attain.

So, sure, I’m not living life the way that I had hoped for myself. So what? What person living with a chronic illness is? Hell, I’d go so far as to wager that no one is! We all deal with shit being thrown at us that we neither expected nor wanted, and we deal with it.¬†Does living a life that is different from the one “of my dreams”¬†mean that my life is inferior, insignificant, or of poor quality? ¬†No, it doesn’t.

Just Because You’re Not Living The Life Of Your Dreams Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Living Well.

There’s so much pressure in our society to stand out and be considered important, and it’s totally unnecessary. It comes from our constant consumption of narratives: TV shows and movies and books. And most of these narratives are fictitious. In real life, we’re each the protagonist¬†of our own story, but none of us knows the whole story because¬†it’s constantly unfolding before us.

Hell, the US military even capitalized on this idea by asking the question, “If your life was a story, would anybody read it?” in recruitment ads. It’s such a silly way of thinking. Comparing stories from our lives¬†with other people’s stories based on entertainment value is fruitless. It’s a directive for misery. There will always be people who have it better and those who have it worse. There will always be people achieving more and those who aspire to far¬†less.

I mean, let’s take a step back from the question of “Is my life mediocre?” and ask an even more important question: who’s judging? Society? The media? History? Why should I care what anyone (other than me) thinks of my life? I’m the one living it, and I’m proud of who I am. That’s what studying Tao is all about: the idea that your path is unique to you, and that you can’t do life wrong.

If we must put ourselves up for judgment, I think it’s better to focus on a set of objective metrics.

  1. Do you do something to learn and grow as a person every day?
  2. Do you engage in activities that contribute positively to your community, such as philanthropy, charity, or advocacy?
  3. Do you treat yourself and others with kindness, compassion, and respect?
  4. Do you make an effort to use your unique talents¬†when you’re able to?
  5. Do you take time to express gratitude and to appreciate the people and things in your life?
  6. Do you share your knowledge with others? Everybody knows something you don’t! It’s one of humanity’s greatest gifts!
  7. Do you make an effort to be empathetic and honor the experiences of others?

I think that if you can say “yes” to those questions, then you’re living a life you can be proud of. ¬†And to be honest, even if you can’t answer “yes” to all of them, it doesn’t mean that your life is mediocre.
 

Shake It Off

Today’s earbug is a pop song by Taylor Swift. I usually don’t like her music, but I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a few days, and it works with the theme of today’s post. I hope it makes you want to shake your booty too.

The Irony Is Not Lost On Me.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve been talking with a lot of my friends about the topic of suicide.

Suicidal Thinking: I know a little about it…

suicideThe first time I tried to kill myself, I was very young. I want to say I was 8. I might have been 9. I was in 3rd grade. I had been through some shit. I took double the adult dosage of some cough syrup. (What can I say? As a kid, I didn’t understand how it worked.) To my surprise, I didn’t die. I did, however, faint, and get to deal with EMTs. I actually was glad I lived, but I never stopped thinking about it. Any time I was down on myself or dealing with bullies, it seemed like the natural, appropriate answer to the situation. It wasn’t.

In early 2003, at the age of 22, I walked into Lakeside and said, “I need help. I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.” The week that followed was horrifying, but helpful. They put me in a room with an anorexic lady who stole my down jacket so that she could sweat off more weight, and I actually had to spend a significant amount of time in group therapy with the very woman who had abused me as a kid at child care and convinced me that I was nothing more than a burden to my parents.

In a very everything-happens-for-a-reason sort of way, I learned all about the abuse she suffered as a child and her messed up reasoning for abusing me. Turns out, I was actually her favorite child from day care, ever. At the time, she was unmedicated, undiagnosed, and suffering from schizophrenia. She genuinely believed that she was trying to teach me necessary life skills and the reality of the world we are living in. Abusers often don’t understand that what they’re doing is harmful because they’re repeating a cycle from their own lives. So, I had to forgive her, in front of a group of strangers, so she could begin to forgive herself. She had been red-banded (a red wrist band told hospital workers not to allow her outside or near anything she could use to harm herself) for more than 6 months. In contrast, I was red-banded for 2 of my 5 days.

The second time I was hospitalized thanks to suicide was 7 years later. Even after going through EMDR therapy to help stop seizures and deal with trauma from earlier in life (much of which I have intentionally kept off this blog), I genuinely believed that I was nothing more than a burden to my family and friends. In the course of 2 years, I had gone from being a socially adventurous academic overachiever to someone who had seizures almost all day long, every day, who couldn’t work and spent all of her days either on the couch or in bed.

suicide2When my parents suddenly let me know that they could no longer help us with rent, Adam and I faced an immediate choice between heading to a homeless shelter and leaving the Los Angeles area to move in with his brother in Romeoville, IL. Either way, we would lose most of our possessions and pride. I felt entirely responsible for our situation, regardless of the facts that Adam had been unemployed for 2 years thanks to the recession and I had no control over having MS or a seizure disorder. I simply wasn’t willing to pull Adam down any further, and I could no longer handle my shame.

I was put on a 72-hour mandatory hold at Glendale Adventist after he called the police because I walked directly into traffic on a busy street. It was the most loving thing anyone has ever done for me, and it helped transform my life. It was there that I learned the truthful phrase, “Suicide is a liar demon.”

I wish I could say that my fight against suicidal thinking ended in that hospital, but it didn’t. It did, however, jump-start some better behaviors, like using aromatherapy to help keep you in the present moment. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t cope with the fact that I’d failed the CA bar exam twice (and wasted $20,000 in the process) or that I still couldn’t magically make myself better enough to be able to work.

It wasn’t until January of 2013, when I started working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to really break the cycle of suicide addiction, that I learned how to stop suicidal thinking in its tracks. It’s probably the most valuable set of rituals I’ve ever learned.

How I Kick Suicidal Thinking’s Sorry Ass Every Single Day

behappyThe best advice I got from CBT was to keep busy. My therapist often said, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” But just keeping busy doesn’t get the job done. It only helps distract you from your thoughts so you can get a word in edgewise with your thoughts. You still have to be pro-active. You still have to recognize when you have irrational thoughts and fight them. And any suicidal thought is irrational. Trust me on this one.

Here’s what I do to keep suicidal thoughts at bay:

1.) Every morning, I list 3 Great Things About Yesterday to remember the good that happened in the past and trick my brain into forgetting about or at least not focusing on the bad. Sometimes I write it here. Sometimes I write it on Facebook. Sometimes, I write in a real paper journal.

2.) Daily gratitude rampages help me focus on what’s good in the moment. Most of mine are in the journal, but sometimes I do them here or on Facebook.

3.) Daily meditation helps me focus my intentions. Right now, Chopra Center has a free 21-day meditation challenge going on, if you want some guidance to start your practice.

4.) I am constantly examining my thoughts for truth to figure out what’s real and what’s an ANT (automatic negative thought). If I find out that a thought is an ANT, I challenge it. It’s like running virus protection for your mind.

5.) Move! Even if you only take a 5-10 minute walk a day or do a few minutes of chair yoga because your legs don’t want to cooperate, getting your body in motion makes a huge difference in your ability to be happy.

When I started these practices, they were very difficult and a constant pain in the ass, but so was enduring life! Nowadays, they’re usually easy, quick, and enjoyable.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Williams.

robinwilliamsI have to say though, that I wouldn’t have written any of this if not for the fact that Robin Williams choked himself to death with a belt.

This guy — this actor/comedian whose roles were so intensely life-affirming that I watched many of them (especially Robots, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and Hook) multiple times while fighting suicidal ideation — he did the world a horrible favor by dying this way. He brought suicide into popular consciousness in the worst imaginable way — by being the very last person anyone would have expected to do it. The irony is not lost on me.

Robin Williams got us talking about how international fame, ludicrous amounts money, and talent-without-match are absolutely fucking meaningless when you’re dealing with addiction and suicidal thoughts. He reminded us that just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re okay. He reminded us that actors can completely miss the messages for which they’re so loved. It’s profoundly sad.

Here are my favorite quotes from his incredible body of work:

Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting: “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Armand Goldman in The Birdcage: ‚ÄúSo what? The important thing to remember is not to go to pieces when that happens. You have to react like a man, calmly. You have to say to yourself, ‚ÄėAlbert, you pierced the toast, so what? It‚Äôs not the end of your life.‚Äô‚ÄĚ

Fender in Robots: “You know Rodney, even if you know you had an discouraging day, remember. There is another one coming tomorrow!”

Genie in Aladdin: “To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.”

Peter Banning in Hook: “To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”

John Keating in Dead Poets Society: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The fact that I posted a “Carpe Diem” graphic yesterday felt like a kick in the gut. It deserves repeating.

carpediem