Say, “I Can’t Control This” When You Can’t

Playing in the Sink

Image by Paul Mayne via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #169 – When there is negative chaos, remember and say, “I can’t control this.”

Carol had worked there for seven years.  The supervisor had just asked her for more hours and Carol felt almost good to be able to say she didn’t have any more to give.  Yet when Carol got the email that her job position was closing in a month, she was physically affected.  Her autonomics (“fight-or-flight” reactions) were on full alert.  If there was an attacking bear, she might have out run him.

Healthy Carol had been to enough 12-Step meetings to remember, “I can’t control this.”  She said it a few times and turned it over to her Higher Power.  She did not crave or relapse in her addiction’s disease.  Her pulse was still fast and her hands were still tingling for the next several hours but she didn’t “use.”  She went to her meeting and she pushed on.

When Carol thought about her future and the things she could do to prepare, she inevitably thought about the things she couldn’t do.  She said,

I can’t control this.

When Carol imagined what other people would think after hearing about her unemployment, she said,

I can’t control this.

In mental health we struggle with that a lot.  The emotions that grow self-loathing, the behaviors that distance us from our support and loved ones, and/or the physical changes that keep us from performing – are all confusing.  At what point do we say, “I can’t control this?”

I remember a Seinfeld joke about water faucets in  public bathrooms.  The ones that you have to hold down to keep the flow going.  I’ll spare you the misery of me trying to retell it and get to the point.  Why do they have those faucets?  It’s as if they think people will have a water party in there or take free sponge baths if they could turn the faucet on long enough actually to wash their hands.

baby elephant | playing in the water

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

When we say something like “I can’t control this” to the idea of emotions and behaviors, the general fear is that people will take wild liberties, – splashing emotions around and behaving like elephants after the summer Serengeti drought ends.  Mayhem will ensue and the staunch healthy-minded with dry pants will have to clean continually after us.  Not many people want to be sullied by the emotions and behaviors of others and this, “I can’t control” business is a boundary issue.  Maybe stigma is one of the ways we change out the faucet on others.

There are some very primitive characters and severely ill people who might say in fact that they cannot control all feelings and behaviors.  This is more than most of us armored with some healthy coping skills would believe or say.

“I can’t control this,” is not a free pass to vandalism, vengeance, volley-ball or any other very vexing behavior.  It is not there to hand over like a ticket to other people for their excuse, justification or condolence of our situations.  It is there for us to hold up to ourselves for the purpose of honesty, submission to our Higher Power, humility and healing.  No one can control the flow out of that.  That is free self-care.

Questions:  When have you felt like you had to explain to others your behaviors and feelings even when you didn’t have an explanation?  How did you bring it back “home” to your own self-care and get past the stigma?  Please tell me your story.

Choose Self-Care At Your Most Elemental Level

Buchenwald-100625-14486-Schwerte-hell

Image via Wikipedia

Self-Care Tip #167 – Choose self-care at your most elemental level.

Carl, who writes blog-site, StillFugue, said after yesterday’s post on self-care being for everyone,

Sometimes depression blocks this type of self-care regardless of how good our cognitive strategies are.

Carl reminded me of Dr. Lang.  He was a physician, a father, a man of high character who never had depression in his life.  Then after a series of life stressors depression expressed itself and he, who once was the warm-fuzzy in the hospital, the man who never lost his optimism, the man who turned anyone’s bad mood around – this man came to me under a black cloud, heavy with melancholy, and raining tears.  He cried all the time.  This giant of a man cried and cried on his wife’s shoulder, and she was bewildered by him.  She told me he had done this for a month now, although the depression started about four years ago.  He kept wanting her to read to him the book of Job and cried more barely hearing the words.  He had already been through a series of well-chosen medications, but still he sank deeper.  No form of treatment kept up with the leak in his ship.  What was self-care for Dr. Lang?

Did Dr. Lang have good coping skills?  Well he wasn’t coping well now even though he knew the strategies.  He didn’t understand why he couldn’t use the coping skills.  Did he have intelligence?  Yes.  Did he have resources?  Yes.  However, none of that is what this was about.  Asking Dr. Lang to cope with his feelings is the same as asking someone blind to see.  Physically, biologically he could not.  His brain could not.  Much of his ability to choose behaviors and emotions were drowned by illness.

So again, the implied question comes to us, – “Is self-care for everyone?”

Mr. Rick C. threw this life-saver out in response to our question,

During times when chaos ensues, either internally or externally, self-care seems to become the basis on which all other positive actions are built.

Sarah McGaugh also referred to self-care as “action,”

A call to action may also be a higher calling than one’s own self….

What action did Dr. Lang do?  He cried on his wife’s shoulder and read the Bible, i.e., he leaned on the support he had built up before the hard times came.  After failing medications, he sought another opinion and other treatments.  Sure, he couldn’t get out of bed otherwise even to bathe himself, but he had made it to my office.  What did Dr. Lang do?  He got electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and in two months, along with his medication (only one antidepressant was needed at this point), Dr. Lang was no longer crying.  In four months, he was laughing again.  In six months, he stopped ECT altogether and maintained his emotional health with his monotherapy medication.  It’s been seven years since Dr. Lang went through all that and he has not relapsed yet.

I pick out so many points that I consider self-care choices Dr. Lang made.  They changed over time for him according to his needs and abilities, but he didn’t want to die.  Even at his worst, when he could barely remember why life was so important, that wisp of hope was enough to live for.  It was a higher calling to him, higher than his own dark wants.

That was Dr. Lang’s choice.  He chose self-care at his most elemental level.  It was his response to the call of hope.

Questions:  But what about you?  What do you think?  Is self-care for everyone?  Please tell me your story.

Self-Care is For Everyone, Regardless of Circumstance

Freedom from Want (painting)

Image via Wikipedia

Self-Care Tip #166 – To do self-care, believe that self-care is for you as it is for everyone.

How do we explain self-care to someone still in a deprived situation?  Deprived of freedoms the rest of us assume:  access to water, time, many choices, and so on.  Some time ago we talked about self-care being ours because we have freedom.  Because of democracy, we are free.  Because of those who fought and still fight for our rights, we are free.  Because of our essence, we are free.  We compared it to the Gettysburg Address of all things, and even when writing the blog-post, I was surprised that the correlation was so natural and right.

Carl, our dependable kind cynic, commented on the post Taking Care of Yourself is The Best Part of Your Treatment Cocktail:

Many I know can’t just do what they want to do.  Chained.  Chained by drudgery of work.  (You do not quit at the iron mill to become a poet, not in this economy.)  Chained by responsibility as family supporter.  Limited time and finances.  Limited by age or illness.  The best these people can do is try to find some brief periods of quality hobby or playtime.  Some have the tenacity to survive in spite of, as I did.  But facing the realities profoundly inhibit wellness, and depression deepens and immobilizes us on the worst days.

Many days I try to distill what self-care is and what it means, and it seems to change on me or grow another way just when I think I’ve got it.

…It is accountability for “Me” now and in the future.  It is not accountability for my past, for chaos or for the choices of others.

Image via Wikipedia

…It is freedom.  Personal freedom to say, “This is my body that God gave me and I will choose to take care of it.”

…It is working hard to do what is in the best interest of “Me.”  It is knowing these things may not come easily or naturally or by chance.  Self-care does not mean doing what is selfish or not in the best interest of others.

Is everyone free?  I think we’d all agree, no, in an immediate sense such as, “Freedom from want,” or freedom from mental illness.  But perhaps we might wonder together and even agree about an eternal sense of freedom that is unchanged by circumstance.

Should everyone work hard at taking care of himself regardless of circumstance?  Yes.

Is everyone accountable to himself?  I’d say it depends in which paradigm we’re talking about.

However we answer these questions, I don’t think we really have a chance at self-care for “Me” if we don’t believe it is for everyone everywhere.

Questions: What do you say?  How do you define self-care?  What about those who are limited and chained, as Carl described?

If You Have Something Good That’s Happened, Say It

Self-Help Graphics

Image by victoriabernal via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #164 – If you have something good that’s happened to you because of your self-care, tell others about it.  Be a friend to yourself.

Have you ever heard of SparkPeople.com?  I’ve been a member for a few years and believe they are one of the most supportive networks out there for diet and lifestyle change.  Today I received this email from one of their bloggers and thought to share it with you.

From “GUITARGAL2″

Today is my one year anniversary on SparkPeople.  I have to admit this is the longest amount of time that I have ever spent focusing on me and my health.  A few things I have learned in the past year are:

1. I can lose weight be happy.

2. I can educate myself on a healthy lifestyle.

3. I have learned that when I slip up, refocus, refocus, refocus.

4. I have learned that I like being a runner.

5. I have increased confidence.

6. I like how my clothes fit.

7. I don’t need chips and dips to feel satisfied.

8. Captain Morgan is not my friend.

9. I can inspire people.

10. Having a support system makes the difference.

One year ago I wrote on my SparkPage, I can do this, and I have.

This is only one example, as described by GUITARGAL2, of what self-care has done for her, specifically through diet and lifestyle change.  All of our lists are different and powerfully inspirational to others when we share them.  It also comes back to each of us, as good things will do.  How does it comes back?  Well, I can’t try to explain that kind of magic.

Keep talking.

Question:  What list do you have for the things self-care has given to you?  Please tell us.

Taking Care of Yourself is The Best Part of Your Treatment Cocktail.

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Image by schmeezla via Flickr

Self-Care Tip #163 – Taking care of yourself is the best part of your treatment cocktail.

We often talk about partial or failed treatment in medicine, in each other, in relationships.  But those are only about 40-60% of the time.  There are many people who get full treatment response to medication and self-care.  Mindy is one of them.

Mindy has seen me for about four years in clinic for her depression.  She’s never been very anxious, which is less usual as anxiety and depression tag-team so often.  Mindy’s depression had lurked in her, stepping out in the light and slipping into the shadows, for years even before she started working with me.  We seemed to hit by chance or skill the right medication cocktail that had evaded her, and she was not depressed anymore.  However, she never told me she was great.  She was “pretty good.”  She was, “doing alright.”  She was, “you know, good.”  Mindy wasn’t great.  She was good.  We spent three and a half years like that.

Then about six months ago, Mindy came in looking hot!  (I can say that because I’m a girl.)  She had lost the mom bumps around the midline, dropped padding in the hips, her hair wore a fresh coat of glossy brown, and I could tell her outfit hadn’t been worn more than twice.  Mindy was smiling and sincere when she said,

I’ve never felt better!  I had no idea what taking care of myself would do for me!

Her eyes were telling me their own conversation.  They were so expressive saying,

I can’t believe this is me!

Mindy told me in testimonial fashion, about the strangers who now noticed her.  Being noticed was an elixir and she was drinking it as often as it was served, but not in an arrogant way.  Mindy was still very human.  She wasn’t manic or grandiose.  She was doing what Gary Vaynerchuk describes in his book, Crush It!

“Do what makes you happy.  Keep it simple.  Do the research.  Work hard.  Look ahead” (p 12).

Mindy said,

I used to think that what I got from life was good enough; from my husband and from the people out there.  I didn’t know I could get this by just doing what I wanted to do for myself all along.

Mindy was still taking her medication cocktail and had no plans of tapering any of them.  She thought the combination of these medications that took her out of depression, along with exercise and other self-care measures were just right.  Mindy had not forgotten her years of melancholy and sadness even though it was now four years since.

Questions:  1) What is your reaction to Mindy and the 40-60% of people who get full treatment response?  2) Do you have any questions you wish you could ask the “Mindy’s” out there?  3) Or something to say for the other 40-60% of people who don’t get full treatment response?  Please tell me your story.

“He’s Never Hit Me.” Abuse.

Self-Care Tip #163 – Name abuse when it is there.  Be a friend to yourself.

Alexandria (Alex) was crying a lot.  She was trying to divorce her husband but he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t speak.  He only yelled.  He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.  And he never spoke to her any more.  It’s been weeks since they spoke.  When I asked her if she thought she was abused, she said, “No.  He’s never hit me.”

Mar de Emociones / Emotional Landscapes

What do I do?  I can’t go on like this but everything I try, he won’t listen!

There are so many things many of us would tell Alex.  But would any of it make sense if she didn’t know she had rights?  If she didn’t know what was happening to her?  If she didn’t know, this is abuse.

The “Do You?” questions, per Dr. Quijada, to ask yourself if you aren’t sure if you are abused:

Do you feel good about yourself when you are together?

Do you feel scared?

Do you feel like you have choices?

Do you have effective boundaries; observed boundaries?

Do you say, “No,” and are heard?

Do you have a balance of power?

From the outside looking in, we could answer these questions for Alex.  But anyone who is or has been abused in any way knows that from the inside, answering these questions is hard.  It was hard for Alex.

Alex missed a few beats.  She didn’t want to see herself as abused.

Identifying abuse, naming it, is a start towards the other side of things.  It is reaching the peak of a hill or mountain of life-stuff, taking the view in after the fog lifts, and knowing that things are the way they are.  This is abuse.  A tangible thing.  Not the drifting mist of fights or arguments that once stalked you, leaving you bewildered and empty-handed.  Simply naming abuse is the start of empowerment.  Name it.  Name it out loud.

“I am abused.”

Alex said,

Wow.  I didn’t know that what he is doing is abuse.  I didn’t know.

After we talked about the name of what she was suffering, she talked about what she thought she could do about it, such as:

Call 911 if she feels unsafe.

Record him.

Say the words out loud, “I am valuable and should be treated well.”

Get a restraining order.

…And other things.

Alex didn’t have a lot of extended family support, so for her, that was out.

Alex said,

I feel more empowered.  I didn’t know I could do that.

And there it was.  A dandelion growing out of the cracked cement.  Hope.  A redistribution of the unequal power.  Alex was growing a plan.

Question:  What would you tell Alex, yourself, or anyone else in her position?  How do you see words being a form of abuse or not?  Please tell me your story.