Another New Year rolls past us and social media is filled to the brim with how to start the new year. One of those being the practice of mindfulness to help remind us that all we can control is this minute right here, right now. When I was first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder nearly a decade ago and everything was a mess and I was being told I would never recover, mindfulness is one of the tools I used in my recovery.
I have been very unwell again in recent months, the result of being bullied at work over the course of several months. Were I not so stubborn and proud I would have booked myself into hospital, it has been a scary ride of late. Gradually I am coming out the other side, as we do, and thankfully those social media posts are reminding me gently of the tools I have dropped from my toolkit, and mindfulness is the one catching my attention the most at the moment. Guess it’s time to pay attention again huh!
Those with BPD and Bipolar and anxiety disorders for example are well familiar with the quagmire of chaos our minds dwell in during periods of being unwell. That minute by minute rollercoaster of emotion and pain and fear, where even breathing is almost more than you can handle, a place where mindfulness has as much chance as a snowball in hell. One of the realisations that made me willing to try mindfulness was the fact that the time was going to pass anyway. And not very productively if I was to believe what my mental health team was telling me. If this was going to be as good as it got, why not spend the time trying things that had a chance of helping me?
How did I do it? By putting in many, many hours of work. I got very clear on who I wanted to be. What did ‘well’ me talk like, think about, believe in? What were my values? What did I believe in? Where did ‘well’ me live and work? What type of friends did I have? Partner? I didn’t leave anything to chance, where did I shop, how much money was in my bank, how often did I travel, what color was my favorite handbag?
I read books written by the likes of Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Richard Branson, Robert Kiyosaki, Daniel Goleman. Books on Fairies, Angels and Aussie Bush Remedies. Auto-biographies of soldiers, athletes and the marginalized. Ancient and modern philosophy, quantum physics and Taoism. Books on learned optimism, meditation, emotional intelligence, resilience. I really wanted to know what I though and believed in, how many of those beliefs were truly mine and which ones did I inherit, how were those beliefs working out for me? I can not begin to tell you how many hours that took, how many times I wanted to give up. I got my lipstick out at 3am one morning and wrote ‘the time is going to pass anyway, who cares if this is what you are doing with it’ on my bedroom mirror to remind myself that I had nothing to lose here.
Some days the best I could do was read a single paragraph on a single page, other days I could spend hours devouring a book. Often I didn’t even understand what I was reading, but I guess I worked out that I have an awful lot of faith and just followed my gut. When I could, I wrote down what I had learnt that was important to me. Over time I developed a really long list of positive thoughts and beliefs. That was really helpful, because in a manic moment finding those positive mantras is just not going to happen, however if you have lists of them around you everywhere, you don’t even have to believe, just read it, safe in the knowledge that the real you wrote them so they are true for you.
Gradually I became familiar again with that feeling of peace and purpose. Once I knew what it felt like I started to set myself goals. Okay kid, today you will tap into that for one whole minute even if it takes you the whole 24 hours to manage it. Or for the length of time it took me to walk to the letterbox, down the corridor, to the shed. Then for one whole shower, or for as long as it took to dance to whatever was my favorite song that week. Ever so slowly I was able to set time limits on how long I had to achieve that, before lunch, before the washing finished, between dinner and bed time. And one day I realized I felt good more often than I felt bad.
In all fairness, my illness had cost me everything by this stage. My children were gone, my work, my family and most of my friends. All I had in my life was me. No-one else to think about, every minute of every day belonged to me. Therefore the time and opportunity was there for me to take this journey. But I did good. Within a few years I had a new career, earning more money than I could have imagined for myself, I have reconnected with my children, I have fabulous people in my life, I go on holidays and go to gigs and shows, I have choices. Do the wheels still fall off? Absolutely. Do I still get sick? Hell yeah. Is it hard work? You better believe it. I bounce back quicker too and don’t lose as much when it all goes pear shaped.
I fill you in on some of the other tools that work for me on another day. 🙂 Mak