gratitude

Happiness is as Happiness does: Musings from a Bipolar Brain

Happy is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. Happiness is a state of being and takes work.

The experience of Happiness is more challenging for some more than others and may seem impossible to achieve.

That’s because Happiness isn’t a goal or destination, but a byproduct, a side effect of the combination of our genetics, circumstances, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

For many of us coming from lives filled with trauma and/or mental illness it will look different than it does for neurotypical people. We have to work through the trauma and confront ourselves to heal and grow. These are our prerequisites to Happiness.

There is no set formula for experiencing it. However, common and necessary elements include self-care (nutrition, activity, personal hygiene, etc.), engagement in healthy community, gratitude, service, and passionate purpose.

Pain, loss, grief, and other feelings and experiences, often considered “negative,” may suppress Happiness and cause us to lose it. But, what is lost can be found again. The negative doesn’t necessarily negate the ability to experience Happiness.

Of course, I could be way off and this is hypomania talking…but, I don’t think so.

What say you?

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Writing Prompts: August Scrawls, Days 1 & 2

I was stymied after prepping Thursday’s post on Wednesday. I had run out of the current prompts available on the social writing app I’ve been writing on – intermittently – for well over a year now. I needed more prompts, until either new prompts showed up on lettrs or my own ideas started flowing.

Did you know there’s a whole community of writers using Instagram? #writersofinstagram and #amwriting are a great way to locate fellow word warriors…but, you probably already knew that.

Nowadays, there’s a hashtag for EVERYTHING under the sun, on God’s green earth…(had to do it once “nowadays” showed up). So, I searched #augustwritingprompts. Lots of options popped up. Several set up scenarios and situations to write about. Not for me. I’m more of a minimalist when it comes to prompts. Give me something to interpret and write my own scene about, in my own voice.

I found such a prompt! It’s called August Scrawls and is hosted by @hopelessperriott on Instagram. A word a day! I can work with that. I hope.

Here are my first two days’ efforts:

Hunger

He hungrily watched her lips wrap around the oblong orb. His mouth went dry with thirst as a tiny drop of clear juice slowly meandered down. His pupils dilated as she captured it with her tongue. He longed to wrap his hands around the soft, golden skin. Mouth watering at the thought of tasting the firm flesh, he asked…

“Do you have another apricot?”

Gotcha! At least that was the idea. The word for Day 1 was “apricot.” How’d I do?

Here’s Day 2:

A Spectrum Moment

“Children, it’s time to work on your spelling words. Jennifer, will you please hand out this week’s practice sheets?”

Mrs. Vee, the teacher, surveyed her overly full classroom. Her eyes rested on the student in the far back corner, Shandi. Shandi was seated on a stool at the science workstation. Her head was bent as she intently stared down at the paper in front of her. She reached for a black marker and began drawing.

Mrs. Vee watched as Jennifer cautiously approached Shandi. Jennifer attempted to hand Shandi the paper. She kept looking at her artwork, seemingly oblivious to Jennifer’s presence. Then, Jennifer bravely placed the paper between Shandi’s face and the paper she was drawing on.

She reacted as badly as expected. The crumpled paper plummeted to the floor.

“Shandi! That’s enough. It’s time to work on spelling. You’ve had your art time. Now it’s work time.”

Defying her teacher’s authority, Shandi climbed down from her stool and stormed out of the classroom, disappearing down the hall to the CBC, Contained Behavior Classroom, where her IEP, Individual Education Plan, said she could go in times of distress.

Mrs. Vee sighed, then called the office, alerting them that Shandi had left the room, once again. “We really need more support from the District’s Autism Specialist,” she thought to herself.

Resigned to the status quo, she turned and addressed the classroom, “Who has completed writing five of the words?”

The word was “authority.”

This scenario is taken from the pages of my life as the parent of a child who interfaces with the world through the Autism Spectrum and experiences ADHD. There were a lot of these kinds of incidents over the past two school years. It’s felt good to interact with and try to support and encourage teachers who care. Most General Education teachers don’t receive much training or education in supporting kids with various special needs. I’m grateful my daughter is where she is.

Anyway, days 1 & 2 down. Hopefully, I’ll catch up with 3 & 4 tomorrow.

Writing Prompts to Prime the Pump

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted much of anything. Life and depression have shut down the part of my brain that has writing ideas and the will to write anyway.

I suspect, or believe, that the meds “stabilizing” the bipolar disorder have something to do with dampening the writing spark. The last time I did any “real” writing was when I was in a manic episode, back in March/April. I was in limerence and completely obsessed over an absolutely inappropriate guy…to be honest, he’s still in my brain, just nowhere near as much.

For those of you wondering, limerence looks an awful lot like a crush or infatuation and feels like the initial throes of excitement one feels when first falling in love. It isn’t either of those things. It’s obsession, pure and simple. It’s also not always about love and romance. Fortunately, I was able to recognize it and acknowledge it for what it was, even though I had little to no power to stop it. I even wrote the following:

This Isn’t Love
Longing for your glance, your touch.
I can’t stop thinking about you.
My mind is not my own
Excruciating anticipation.
Resistance is useless.
Excited and breathless
Can you feel it, too?
Eventually, this, too, shall pass.

Limerence
lim·er·ence
ˈlimərəns/
noun PSYCHOLOGY
1. the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.

It didn’t end well.

My writing was prolific during those few weeks. Since then, the urge/desire/need to write has disappeared. For the most part.

Last month, I planned to get back to blogging. So, I signed up for The Ultimate Blog Challenge…then didn’t write a word for the blog. Actually, that’s not true. I started to write a post about ableism and the use of the word “crazy.” It’s in the Drafts folder.

Finally, on Sunday, I decided I needed to start small and use a social writing app, lettrs, and the prompts the admins and members offer, to get writing again. Here are the results of the past four days of prompts I’ve responded to:

Skylark Challenge 149:
Image + four words: pernicious, illuminating, children, malevolent.

The pernicious presence of the alien craft, illuminated the children, who stood frozen and fearful in the malevolent atmosphere.

Skylark Challenge 150:
Image + four words: flowing, timeless, fierce, enigma.

Writing Prompt: Thankful

To those who have supported me with love and kindness
How can only mere words express
Appreciation for your devotion and acceptance of my mess
Never treating me or my experiences as less
Knowing my heart and not judging what I confess
Friends and family do nothing but bless
Understanding my pressures and stress
Love deep and lasting given without duress

And finally, today’s prompt:

Photo Challenge
Nostalgia for What Never Was

Sitting beside you as you leaned next to me, we gazed over the bridge’s wall to watch the traffic flow below.

We searched for the odd or unusual: out of state license plates, bumper stickers, classic cars, variant paint jobs, and anything that made the vehicle unique.

You would ask me questions: Who is in this car or that one? Are they coming or going? Why are they driving from there to here or here to there? Who are the people inside? Families? Businessmen? Women on errands or on their way to work to support their families?

We would spin tales and weave stories with one another…each one more elaborate and descriptive than the last.

You midwifed my lifelong curiosity about the nature and character of my fellow humans. You taught me how to expand my imagination and to use even the most mundane of things as a source of inspiration. You instilled in me a profound love of words and language. You gave me the foundation for my writing today.

Thank you, daddy. Thank you for being you and helping me to be me.

Signed,
The Lifelong Orphan

What helps you write when you’re experiencing writer’s block?

Mind over matter: Mental habits

Yesterday, the teaching elder of our church introduced the next sermon series…mental habits. He explained the connection between that and spiritual growth. It got me to thinking about implementing the healthy changes I need and want to make in my life – especially around nutrition and physical activity.

I realized that I have some pretty painful and counterproductive mental habits which have contributed to how I got to the point I’m at, both in life and in health.

Be aware when you compare. Even though I know it’s counterproductive, I still do it…seemingly unconsciously and involuntarily. I’ve gotten in the habit of comparing myself to others, almost always to my own deficit. Especially when it comes to my body.

First the comparison. Then the story I tell myself must be true. Then the self-judgment. Sadly, it’s all about determining my self-worth through vanity. It’s an unproductive habit, done in vain.
It goes something like this:

I walk past a reflective surface and catch a sideways glimpse of my image. I cringe at my physical appearance and begin thinking about what others must see and think when they see me. Shame rises within and births embarrassment. I walk past an ad for a weight loss program and see the beautiful, smiling image of someone who has lost weight and appears happier and physically smaller than their “before” picture. I think, “if she couldn’t get it done without paying for a program, I know I can’t. I don’t have any money to pay for anything like that. I don’t have what I need to lose weight. I’m just going to be fat forever. No one wants a fat person. I’m unlovable.”

This entire process takes less time than it takes to read about it. I’ve practiced it so often, I’m an expert at it and it is now an involuntary, automatic response to looking at my reflection.

Well, it needs to get disrupted. What if I do this instead?

I catch a glimpse of my reflection.The cringe starts to happen. I stop, turn, and look at my reflection and smile. I tell myself, “Your body is strong and capable. Be proud. Be grateful it functions as well as it does.” I keep walking and see the weight loss advert. I think, “Good for them. I am capable of getting healthy, too. I am not my body. I am worthy and deserving of love no matter what my body looks like. I am loved. I love myself.”

This process takes time, attention, and energy. It may feel false because I’ve believed the lies too long. But, it’s important to practice it, go through the motions, and deliberately think the thoughts if I want to change.

Change begins in the mind. Healthy thought habits lead to healthy action and healthy habits are formed.

Think and say the good things you want enough instead of focusing on what you don’t want. Easier said than done, but worth it, I believe.

What are some of your mental habits?

B4Peace 2014: Living in the presence of an attitude of gratitude

Last year I participated in the Bloggers for Peace movement and I am doing so again this year. Kozo’s Monthly Peace Challenge for January 2014 is about The Neuroscience of Peace. In his post, he shared this quote:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny. ~ Mahatma Ghandi

It reminded me of this passage from the Bible:

Romans 5: 1-5 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) ~ 1 So, since we have come to be considered righteous by God because of our trust, let us continue to have shalom [peace] with God through our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah. 2 Also through him and on the ground of our trust, we have gained access to this grace in which we stand; so let us boast about the hope of experiencing God’s glory. 3 But not only that, let us also boast in our troubles; because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope; 5 and this hope does not let us down, because God’s love for us has already been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh [Holy Spirit] who has been given to us.

To my way of thinking, bringing peace into the world outside of me, requires that I develop a peaceful character inside of my self, which infiltrates all aspects of my life. For me, peace comes from trusting God and choosing to think, act, and speak on the basis of that trust that God loves people and is in the business of reconciliation and restoration of relationships between people and Himself, each other, and within themselves.

All the conflict and less than peaceful interactions in this world stem from people not being at peace within themselves and not being able to accept and trust that ways and experiences other than their own are as valid as theirs.

We also tend to believe that pain and suffering shouldn’t happen to us and that if it does happen, someone should be held responsible and accountable to make reparations for the pain and suffering we have experienced and been subjected to.

Here’s the this about that: pain and suffering are part and parcel of living life in a world full of people who have experienced pain and suffering. I’ve seen the statement: “Pain happens, suffering is optional.” At first I thought it was kind of a callous statement. Then I thought it was overly simplistic.

Now, I’m coming to understand how profound it really and truly is.

Suffering is a choice we make, whether we realize it or not. When painful, negative, disappointing things happen in our lives and we are affected, we can get stuck in the emotional and mental point of impact, reliving the loss moment after moment, creating our own sense of suffering. We often carry that into our next set of experiences with an expectation of more suffering, and unintentionally create the attitude and atmosphere which brings that expectation into fruition. This is neuroscience at work.

I’m done suffering. I’m done taking my suffering out on those around me by being anxious, stressed, angry, bitter, resentful, and expecting bad things to continue happening. I don’t want to do it anymore. That means I have to retrain my brain to think differently and react differently to the things which happen in my life, most of which I have little or no control over, specifically how other people think, speak, act, and how they interact with me.

So, that means, doing something different than what I’ve habitually done in the past.

Back in December 2013, I shared about developing an attitude of gratitude and exchanging complaint for appreciation. My goal in 2014 is to make this my new default response to trouble, affliction, and painful circumstances. Any time I find myself in a negative frame of mind or overwhelmed with unmanageable emotion, I will recite and repeat these declarations of gratitude, and apply them in context of the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings I am experiencing. This is my plan for bringing more peace into the world in 2014.

20140113-141929.jpg

Gratitude: Exchanging complaining for appreciation

I’ve missed writing. I’ve started multiple posts over the past three months or so, only to get interrupted by something external or by my own internal distractions, like the pain, fatigue, and depression. Often, it has been a combination of both. I’ve gotten tired of being in complaint mode and chronicling the challenges, painful circumstances, and conflicted relationships I’m in. I want to be someone other than the one with the chronic issues.

I mean, they’re chronic for goodness’ sake! How much can be said about them? Who wants to hear about it all the time? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m sick of saying it. I’m sick of reading my own words about it. Since that has been where my head and heart have been at, my writing has suffered and been non-existent.

Hopefully, that’s about to change.

If you have a Facebook account, your November News Feed of other people’s status updates may have been filled with, or interspersed with, daily or weekly posts of “friends” posting things they are thankful for. Perhaps not. However, mine definitely was.

I personally know many of the people who were practicing thankfulness. It astounded me to see that people I know who are experiencing mental and physical health issues, divorces, death of loved ones, financial crisis, relationship conflicts, job loss, and other life calamities were identifying things to be thankful for in their lives. Often, multiple items on this list were going on at the same time or had overlapped during this year, much like the things I deal with on a consistent basis.

How is it that they could do this in sincerity and joy while experiencing the other things? How can they take their minds and emotions off of the struggles and the storms and rejoice in the brief sun breaks and rainbows?

It’s time for this Eeyore to explore other ways of being in this life and this world.

A handout received from Bridge City Community Church's Marc Schelske on 11/30/13

A handout received from Bridge City Community Church’s Marc Schelske on 11/30/13

I’ve realized that acceptance is not enough. I have learned to accept that I cannot change other people and their words, actions, attitudes, choices, perceptions, or interpretations of their experiences. I have come to accept that I am who I am, all of me; past & present, pleasant & unpleasant, constructive & destructive, functional & dysfunctional – at least I’m a lot more accepting of them and myself than I was a year or two ago. I’m still a work in progress on the acceptance thing.

I’ve reached the point where I accept that the situations and circumstances of my life and the world around me are as they are, regardless of my preference or comfort level. I accept and understand my contributions to these things which are and own that I’m living in the reality I created.

I have matured, grown, and changed. Some of the relational conflicts are diminished, new relationships and external engagements are being formed. However, the depression slump that I went into during September and am beginning to emerge from now, has been fairly heinous to go through, because I was still missing a critical component of recovery – gratitude.

Being grateful is not something I’ve ever really learned to do. It fell into the same category of being happy and experiencing love – emotions that you have in response and reaction to external stimuli.

Maybe that is the way it is for some people. Not so much for me. Regardless of the origins, my emotional response system is broken and dysfunctional. Perhaps, someday, a miracle will happen and it will suddenly be fixed, restored to it’s original state of functionality and endless potential. However, I cannot continue to exist in this brokenness, waiting for that to occur. I suspect the “fix” will not be a sudden, miraculous, eventful shift from the way it is to the way I want it. I believe that before that miraculous shift can or will occur, I have to prepare for it.

One of my current favorite shows is Once Upon A Time. Fractured fairy tales and fictional characters intermingled with legend and modern living, messy, conflicted relationships, and difficult to track of all the moving pieces and shifting relationships that always seem to be the same while they grow and change, realizing that the good aren’t all good and the bad aren’t all evil, sometimes. Two of the central “bad guy” characters are Regina/Evil Queen and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Regina has made a deal with Rumple and gotten what she wanted only to discover years later that she was still left with an emptiness inside of her. She approaches Mr. Gold and demands that he help her acquire the thing she believes will fill that hole and fulfill her in the way her previous achievement had not.

Mr. Gold: Are you ready for this?

Regina: I need this.

Mr. Gold: They are not the same thing.

I need to be a happy, content, and thriving person. I want it. I truly do. However, nothing in my life experience or in the ways I’ve learned to live my life have prepared me to be such a person. I’m fairly certain that the opportunities to experience this kind of life have been there, but I have always managed to dismiss or destroy them because they didn’t satisfy the twisted expectations of what I thought they meant. Kind of like Regina has done.

I want to be ready to experience this kind of life. In order to experience it, I have to practice it.

If you don’t have gratitude, you can’t be happy. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you can’t be content. If you aren’t grateful for and appreciative of what you have, you won’t take care of it and it won’t thrive.

What I have is enough. For this I am grateful.

The time I have is enough. For this moment I am grateful.

The people around me are enough. For them I am grateful.

Who I am is enough. For me I am grateful.

Above everything, God is enough. For this I am grateful.

Attitude: Minimization or Amplification? How does your attitude affect your life?

There are a lot of quotes and conversations floating around “out there” about attitude and it’s impact on our lives.

I had the opportunity to watch two different Google Hangouts where the role of attitude came up. The first was a conversation between Robert Kennedy III and Julia Neiman, “What Success Looks Like.”  The second hangout, with Marc Schelske and friends, looks at, “The role of attitude in spiritual growth.” 

At 10:20 into the conversation with Julia Neiman, Robert asked, “What do you do daily to encourage or inspire yourself?”

Julia referred to a daily practice she has, “The 10/10 List,” where she spends time every morning going over ten things she’s grateful for, as part of entering into a daily, “Attitude of Gratitude” for the rest of her day:

“If you are in an attitude of gratitude, you are in the zone. And you cannot help but feel happy if you are grateful. When you’re feeling grateful and in an attitude of gratitude . . . things come to you, when you are grateful for what you have.”

I used to hear this kind of thing while I was busy being anxious, depressed, stressed, and miserable. The only things I could focus on that I had, were my troubles and difficulties. The disruption, pain, and chaos from my past, which had come to define who I was and was an ever present part of my existence.

“So, I’m supposed to be grateful for ______?!?” Fill in the blank with the problem du jour, and you have a pretty good representation of my attitude: incredulity, disbelief, disgust, and bewilderment. I couldn’t see the value in being grateful for the painful, difficult, unjust, and downright ridiculous issues I had dealt with most of my life.

I know a lot of people like this. I’ve known them in all eras of my life. People who hold onto their pain, contempt, disdain, and offended sense of everything that is wrong with the world, their lives, and the people around them. The critics, the victims, and the ones we tend to carelessly, however justified, label as manipulative, crazy, and hateful.

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter the other day about such a person. A woman who is my age, and the mother of a couple of my daughter’s friends. Apparently this woman uses, manipulates, and abuses anyone and everyone she comes into contact with. During a text conversation where she was threatening and abusive toward my daughter, she sent screen shots of the conversation to one of her daughters. When our daughters met up, the friend said something like, “She was completely in the wrong for doing that. But you know how it is, it’s my mom. It will blow over and she’ll be okay.”

She was really frustrated and bewildered because she couldn’t understand how this woman’s behavior could be excused or accepted in any way, shape, or form. She’s convinced that because everyone around her lets her get away with the behavior, that she’s never going to change or be different and that it’s the fault of those who put up with it and accept it.

I suggested that it sounds as if this woman might have some mental/emotional health issues and a personality disorder or two. Her response was rather explosive. The idea that people who have these kind of challenges being allowed to have a “pass” on disruptive, destructive, and devastating behavior, simply because they have a mental/emotional health problem and everyone else just has to be okay with it, is one which my daughter finds distinctly unpalatable.

For me, this all hits me in tender areas in my heart and mind, spirit and soul.

Matthew 7 3 5

Matthew 7:3-5
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
3 Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!

I’ve been this kind of person in the lives of others at various times in my history, in various ways. Every single person I’m related to and whom I love, have had these kinds of things show up in their actions towards myself and others.

How do I condemn another for something I can recognize inside of myself? How do I hold them accountable and not hold myself accountable? By what measure do I determine where to draw the line?

The position, or attitude, that focuses on the wrongs of others and external things as the source of our misery or happiness is one that minimizes the role we play and the effect we have on our own lives through our choices based on thoughts, beliefs, and experiences.

Like the overwhelmingly strong and powerful adult elephant in the circus who is kept docile and harmless by a braided rope, we are kept limited in our effectiveness, by the experiences and beliefs we gained from them when we were younger, weaker, less knowledgeable, and under the care and responsibility of those who may not have had our best interest at heart.

Sovann Pe on spiritual growth

We have the ability to do some self-examination and self-reflection to identify where our own limitations and boundaries are false beliefs limiting us, creating and attracting all the negatives we perceive as keeping us down in our lives. When we are ready to stop focusing on everything and everyone else, when we become willing to look at the log in our own eyes, that is when our attitudes and the things that form them can begin to change.

I know this because it is the path I’m on now. I am discovering that the more I adopt an attitude of acceptance, self-awareness, forgiveness, and trust the more powerfully I am able to accomplish constructive and positive things in my life and the more I am surrounded by others who are engaged in similar journeys.

What attitudes may or may not be working well in your life?

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