If you’ve never actually met me, there’s something you should know. I’m a complete Type A Personality. I’m an over-achiever, constantly aiming to reach even higher goals. I don’t believe failure is an option. There’s never enough time to get the things I want to accomplish done in the time frame I have. Speaking of time, I’m always early. I see timeliness as a sign of respect. I hate to be kept waiting, often it makes me edgy. I can’t relax easily. I feel like there is always something that needs to be done. Even if I get all the important things done, I keep adding to my to-do list. I’m self-driven. I’m high stress all the time. I need to plan out every aspect of my entire life – literally I’ve had a five-year plan since the time I was 9 (is that sad?) I thrive on competition and feel this need to constantly be better. It’s creates a sense of value for me. If there’s nothing to compete over, I create some kind of competition. “Oh, my relatively healthy co-worker looks great today? Well I’m going step up my workout routine and change my hair style and get better at makeup so I look just as great.” I know, that last point is hella sick and twisted. That’s the thing I’m working the hardest on right now.
With all of that said, I fall more in the Right Brain spectrum rather than the Left. This means that I’m a very visual person. I need more hands on experiences to learn. I’m emotional and intuitive. I’m creative. I love to draw. I find it easier to solve problems with similarities and patterns. I find athletic things come pretty easy to me. I’m perceptive and have round about ways of thinking. The random connections my brain can make astound even me. Yes, there is scientific data out there that shows we use both sides of our brain pretty equally, but my Type A Personality yearns to belonging to a specific category. Because of these aspects of my personality, I tend to find myself at war when it comes to thinking about a lot of things.
In therapy, we discussed the different states of mind mental illness can put us in. There’s emotional mind, where everything is raw, where you tend to act immediately, where you can’t think rationally. In emotional mind, you can be very bipolar – almost euphoric, everything is grand and amazing, or you could be on the down side, where everything sucks and you act out of anger or sadness. In emotional mind, our behaviors and thoughts act as a reflection of that state of mind. Then there’s the logical mind. In this mindset, all emotion is gone. Your brain acts almost robotic, only seeing black and white. Only noticing fact. A rational mind like this seems like the goal for those of us with mental illness, wanting to be able to separate the thoughts in our minds from the emotions in our hearts. But actually, there’s a third category called wise mind. You guessed it. Wise mind is a combination of both emotional and rational mindsets. Wise mind is the state we want to live in. Wise mind allows us to feel our emotions, but also be able to take a step back and rationally think about how our emotions are affecting us. Wise mind allows us to empathize with others. It keeps us from being a psychopath. No really. The characteristics of a psychopath include a lack of empathy, lack of remorse, and shallow or inability to feel emotion. Are you sure you really want to always stay in logic mind land? That's what I thought.
“Okay Kel, this education section of mental states and personality traits is great and all, but where does journaling come into play?” Oh I’m so glad you asked. With this insight into my creatively intuitive, yet always having a stick up my butt definition of character, you would think I’d have been journaling my whole life. I get to write and draw and have all the creative expression I want, but it would be categorized and kept in one place all neat and tidy and organized in this perfect little book. Yea, sounds great. But I didn’t start keeping a journal until the beginning of this year. It was my new years resolution actually, to start documenting and keeping track of my life. Why didn’t I do this before? I thought writing down my feelings was stupid. It was a reminder the thoughts were happening. That they were real. Documenting them meant I couldn’t run away from them. That they were a part of me. That I couldn’t deny them any longer. Didn’t I have to keep a journal feelings book in therapy? No actually. But we did have to fill out a diary card for each session. These cards tracked moods, if we had taken our medication, what our drug and alcohol intake was between sessions. We’d set goals at the end of each class, what tasks we were going to try and accomplish – which could be as “simple” as eating enough for proper nutrition and doing laundry – to more difficult things like having a deep talk with a parent or friend or applying for jobs. These cards also had a section with the skills we were learning in class and we were to check them off if we were able to use them in every day life. We also had the option of writing down our thoughts and whatnot on the back if we wanted. I chose not to. I told you all in another post I was a brat in the beginning of group. I hated it. I put on my happy-life-is-perfect-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-me mask and played devils advocate on the days I really disagreed with certain skills. All I really wanted was to do my time and get out of that building.
I HATED those diary cards. Mainly because it meant I had to talk about everything that was wrong with me in front of the entire group. Remember how part of my personality is to make everything a competition? Well, I wanted to have worse struggles than everyone else, but also be coping with them better than everyone else. Again, welcome to the f*****-up space that is my brain. As therapy started to break me down, my eyes opened to all the kinds of things people struggle with when it comes to mental illness. There are those days where all I wanted was to stay in bed and sleep and not face the world, but I never actually did that because that’s not what a good, successful human actually did. I would have been ashamed to ever do something like that. But those cards made me realize that doing that isn’t actually shameful. Here were women that I started to truly respect, going through some of the same shit as me, going through worse shit than me, making it a task to just get out of bed. It made me realize being in competition with other people is the dumbest thing I could ever do to myself. I am no better than anyone else. I am not some special snowflake because of the mental hell I put myself through. I am especially not some special snowflake because of the positive things I’m doing either. My accomplishments and success don’t grant a more fulfilling life. If anything, yearning to be everything I wasn’t, only enhanced my lack of happiness…
I’ve been out of therapy for 8 months now. And I want to try and make an analogy of what happened immediately after. So you know when you go on a diet, you suffer through it and you only eat rice, chicken, and broccoli. You superficially look great, you internally feel maybe okay. But you get through it and think it’s sustainable and that everything was worth it. You go on spring break or your vacation or have your wedding or whatever you did the diet for, and then you binge. You eat the pizza you weren’t allowed to have on your diet. You over do it on tacos. Pasta becomes your best friend. You drink. You enjoy the splurge and time away, but when you come back home, you realize you’re right back where you started. It’s kind of the same with therapy. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to work a real career job and do therapy at the same time. I still taught dance, but three days a week my sole job was to go to therapy and focus on my mental health. I had less responsibility and stress. I got to read and paint. I walked my dog and went on long bike rides. I’d work out. I’d meal prep. I did all the things I wanted to do. It was great. But as therapy was over, I knew I had to work again and actually contribute to society. I was thrown back into my old stressful life without any kind of reverse-diet. I stopped tracking my moods or if I ate that day. I focused on the tasks I had to do and let stress become the source of my “life’s purpose.” I went an entire week and a half without taking my meds because I had too much going on to go and get my re-fill. My mental health took a backseat and by November I took a good hard look at my life and realized that although I was coping well now, I was still heading back down the path that led me to therapy in the first place.
So I sporadically started to write down my thoughts. I wrote down my exercises in my planner. Wrote out a meal plan so I wouldn’t skip any more meals. Made notes of specific events that happened that made me feel something more than just an average emotion. And I noticed how much better than was making me feel. But I wanted to take it a step further – because I need to over-achieve. So I bit the bullet and bought a bullet journal (see what I did there?) It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I may love this thing more than I love Greg (sorry babe!). But really, I use it for everything and I want to share my “method to the madness” with you real quick!
Like I said, I started this in January. I drew out a monthly calendar on the first page so I could map out a rough idea of what the month was going to look like. I wrote down my physical and non-physical goals for the month. I wrote down my body stats just because I was curious at how this was going to change not just my mental body but my physical one as well. Each day I tracked got half a page. I wrote out my daily schedule, the tasks I wanted to accomplish that day, and the food I ate/when. Very basic. Easy enough to create a habit of. About halfway through the month, I started tracking my water intake – because I realized how dehydrated I was getting having a desk job and how that was affecting me. I started sketching motivational quotes. During the last week of the month, I started a gratitude list, where I listed 3-4 things I was specifically grateful for in that day.
February I upped the anti a little. Still had my monthly calendar, my physical and mental goals. I tracked each day roughly the same – daily schedule, to do list, food and water intake. But this month, I added a habit tracker. Each day of the week got it’s own vertical column, and each horizontal column got it’s own habit. Here’s my list: taking my medication, taking my vitamins, doing yoga, reading, unplugging by 10 pm (looking back, lolz at that goal), getting 7+ hours of sleep (also lolz), exercising, drinking more than a liter of water, using essential oils, practicing self-love, sketching, doing 50 pushups (one of my fitness goals with my trainer), watering my plants, cleaning, eating clean, and my bowel movements (yea, sorry not sorry if that one’s a little TMI, stay with me here). Each of these habits has it’s own color and I fill it in if/when I complete that task each day. It looks really pretty, which is a drive for me to actually do everything. But I also know how good these things are for me and I’m now better able to differentiate why I may feel off on certain days. Like yes, I know the bowel movement tracking is weird, but guess what, when you don’t go for two days you become pretty freaking irritable. And instead of wondering and shaming yourself for being so off, just look in your tracker and realize “no shit I’ve been feeling weird, I’m literally full of shit right now.” Silly I know. But being able to specify what is actually causing your mood to change is pretty darn cool. It’s enlightening. It really helps with the pattern recognition learning section of my brain. It makes me feel like less of a loser because I can specify when or what is now making me upset.
It’s about to be March and I’ve been re-evaluating what habits I want to track, and what else I want to add to my journaling. I obviously started this blog, which is great for getting out my emotions and coming to terms with things. But I want to track the correlations with that. For example. I had the most stress writing the last post. Debating if I was even going to post it. If it was stupid. If people weren’t going to get it. I showed it to Greg, he really didn’t like it. So I questioned if I should even keep trying to do this blog thing at all. I didn’t really eat the few days of that writing process. I wasn’t sleeping well. But as soon as I re-read it one last time, made my final few edits, and posted it, I felt such a sigh of relief. That night I slept better than I had in months. The next day I felt so much lighter. I had an appetite again. It was incredible. And it was literally the difference of a blog post. Just think of the self-discoveries I can make if I keep up that kind of mindfulness! I’m lame-ly excited about those kinds of possibilities...
So the moral of this long-ass blog post is this. Get a damn journal. Track your life. Set some goals. Step away from shame. Notice how often you actually practice self-love, or realize you don’t practice it at all. Set a goal to get away from technology, use it to find some center and bring some gravity to your life. Mental illness sends your mind into chaos. You can’t find any pattern or meaning to anything. You feel ashamed for the way you’re feeling because you really don’t know why day to day you’re so unenthused by life. You know you shouldn’t be so murpy all the time but you just can’t help it. It adds to the wanting to give up entirely. But having a journal, writing in a diary, tracking you habits can help you start to make sense of your emotions. It’s liberating. It’s a chance of overcoming this. A tool in building ways accept the ways you’re feeling. If you feel stupid at first, that’s okay. You don’t have to write about your feelings. You don’t have to track when you poop. But just trying anything at all is beyond helpful. Even just tracking in your phone when you feel upset and what event you think caused it is a step in the right direction. No matter what personality type you are or what side of your brain you use more, journaling can be one of the best tools of recovery. Just write it down. Validate it. Only when you accept what’s happening can you move on from it.