I never thought writing a post celebrating progress that I’ve made so far would be so difficult, but, this week, it’s a hard one. There’s been a lot going on, and, at this point, I am focusing mostly on managing my reactions, figuring out why they’re hitting as hard as they can, and containing the biggest culprits until my second session with “New Therapist” on Tuesday (yes, the therapist transition has happened, and it’s going smoothly so far). With regards to the current struggle, I am going to intentionally be vague for 2 reasons: 1 – primarily, because it is triggering a lot of memories and visceral reactions that I’m trying to manage (and I’m not ready to open that can of worms on my own yet), and also 2 – it involves the day job.
This time, I’m not going to enumerate my victories, because, really, they can all be summed up in a realization that I am actually actively applying many of the skills I’ve been learning and working on over the past 6 months as I’ve stumbled across various challenges in the past few weeks. Even 2 months ago, most of the things I consider a victory today may not have made my radar, because I would have been disappointed in myself for not doing better. Today, I can see I still have a way to go, but I’m starting to see some progress, and it really does feel like a victory, even if I am in the midst of a struggle right now.
Starting towards the beginning of the month, I had what I thought at the time was a small victory, but, looking back, I realize it was a pretty good one. I have occasional anxiety in large crowds. Not all the time, but when it is shoulder to shoulder and hard to move around, especially when everyone around me is taller than me (which isn’t hard – I’m only 5’3”), I start feeling tense. I feel trapped. Not like I’ll never get out again or anything, but like I have no space to breathe. I feel like I can’t control where I’m going, and, as I’ve recently realized, it gets even worse if I’m holding hands with someone, because it gets even harder to move and find a path to keep moving. Life being what it is, of course, right after watching 4th of July fireworks at a park with my family, I was in exactly that situation. There were probably at least a thousand people trying to leave the park, all through this single walking bridge. We were headed towards the bridge and got slowed down by the bottleneck. I was trying to follow my sister, and keep a hold of my son’s hand while also keeping track of my husband. I felt my heart start to race, and my breathing start to go shallow and fast. I felt trapped, and I knew it was going to start to get bad. My son was exhausted and fussy, which added another stressor to the mix. I soon realized that I needed to talk to my son and husband, to find a better plan for our family, and that I needed space to breathe. So, I did just that. I told my sister that we’d catch up, caught my husband’s eye and pointed to a small opening by the side of the stream of people where there was a railing at the top of some steps, and I took a moment to do some controlled, deep, mindful breathing, as well as to explain as best I could so that both of them could understand that I needed to go through the crowd on my own, without holding anyone’s hand.
Not long ago, that story would have had a much different ending. I would have tried to be bullheaded and force myself to keep going, force myself to “just deal with it” and ignore my feelings, which would have led to either crying or yelling at someone (probably, sadly, my husband), the moment they did something that pushed that last button. It was definitely a victory to take up space, to voice my needs, and to acknowledge and accommodate my feelings.
Another “victory” that I have realized since my last post is somewhat related – emotions. In working with some mood logs and realizing what some of my typical cognitive distortions are, I have been trying very hard to check myself as I have emotional reactions to situations. I may not be able to stop the initial reaction, but the time between the instigating event and the point at which I stop and try to figure out what I’m feeling, why, and how to best express those feelings is getting shorter. Conflict doesn’t always equal yelling anymore, and I’ve noticed that, as I work on managing my reactions and trying to understand my feelings, my son’s meltdowns and tantrums are getting easier to manage. I think they’re getting easier both because I can stay calmer during them, and because he is learning how to express what his big feeling is and what is causing it, and he is willing to talk about what might help him work through the big feeling.
On another vein entirely, and not directly tied to therapy and mental/emotional health (yet, still related, because it is tied to self care), I took some time last week to work through the first chapter of 7 Essential Writing Tools by Marni Freedman, and I have set some writing goals for myself, with my first “project” being the simple act of resurrecting my writing skills and voice, because it’s been, well, let’s just say over 10 years since I graduated college, and I feel a bit lost and rusty. I’m starting with just building a habit of writing, and making writing an integral, not optional part of my life.
FInally, the past couple of days. There have been some major stressors going on that are making it very hard for me to even want to celebrate my victories. However, in doing some freewrites (yes, to build a writing habit), I realized that I’ve physically been managing this challenge in a way that I’m pretty dang happy with. I may not have been perfectly on point with my healthy eating, but I’ve been making more healthy choices than not. Six, maybe even 3 months ago, I probably would have been binging on pasta, pastries, boba, fast food, and anything else that sounded good in the moment, without thinking about what I actually wanted. The past couple of days, I’ve had a couple of indulgences, but I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of eating when I’m hungry and not just when I’m having some feelings. I’ve also been more active in the past 2 days than I have most other work days in the past few weeks. Even though it’s pretty much just been going for walks either alone or with the hubby and kiddo, it’s helped me clear my mind a little bit and give me something to focus on besides all the junk that’s going on otherwise. I’m not just camped out on the couch, binge-watching NCIS or Marvel movies.
Yikes! This is a much longer “Victories” post than usual, but the victories this time aren’t as visible or easily explained. In fact, they feel like much bigger victories than the ones in the last 2 posts, which also helps me see the silver lining in the dark storm cloud that’s currently surrounding me. And, I think I’ll focus on that silver lining for now. It helps (and I like silver).
Have you had any victories lately, big or small, external or internal?