Back to Reality

“Back to life, back to reality,” – Soul II Soul

My apologies if this post feels a little disjointed or lacks a smooth flow; I’m prioritizing posting over perfection, which ties perfectly into some of the work I’ve been doing.

When I first took leave from work, I had all these plans of grandeur, of what I would be doing with my time when I wasn’t in my outpatient program. But, the best laid plans, right? I was planning on posting more, catching up on other blogs, cleaning, cooking, etc. What really happened? I went to program. I came home and worked on stuff for program. I zoned out in front of the TV. I did my nails. I spent a lot of time in my head, in a good way. Somehow, 8 weeks slipped through my fingers.

Today, I had my second to last session in my Cog-IOP (a CBT-based outpatient program). When I first started, I had people who had seen others go through the program say that it was life-changing, and I didn’t understand how that could be possible in such a short period of time. As I look at discharging on Thursday, I get it. I’ve done so much work on myself, looked so much at how I think about things, and how my behavior has reinforced some of my negative self-beliefs and distorted thoughts, that my head feels like a different place than it was two months ago. I realize that a part of this change is from the increase in one of my antidepressants, but a bigger part has been from challenging myself. I also know that this isn’t the end of the road for me. We’ve just been chipping away at some of the branches of what’s been getting in my way. There’s a couple of tangled trees that have grown over a lifetime that I need to uproot, and that’ll take a lot more time and a lot more work, but I’ve got a better tool box now. I’ve even been making enough progress on the surface work and main causes for the program that I’ve started working on some distorted core beliefs (ie: the roots of the tree). One area I need to challenge is “Unrelenting Standards/Perfectionism.” In other words, high standards can be good, until it’s detrimental and starts tying into negative beliefs about myself (ie: if I make a mistake, I’m useless). Interestingly enough, a while back, I bought a notebook that says “Done is better than perfect.” That’s a tough pill to swallow.

life is imperfect
Sometimes, it’s OK to not be perfect. It’s a sign of being human.
Photo by EKG Technician Salary on flickr.com

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how this program has helped me, how it has changed me, and what I’ve gotten from it, which is good, because I need to write a relapse prevention plan for my last day. A thought came to me. Back in high school, I had to take a Speech class. There was 1 teacher for Speech at the time, Dr. Sheehan. I clearly remember the rules he had in place for presentations, and the way he helped us work away from using “unnecessary verbalizations” (ie: um, uh, like, you know). These words were also known as “UV’s.” First off, every desk had a couple of signs under it. Whenever we heard a “UV,” if it was on one of the signs under our desk, we would hold it up, so the presenter would be aware of it. If we were to start with a UV, or start looking down, we would be “Banished” (on the back of some of the signs), and would have to go back to our seat to start again. The whole point of this was to be more aware of how we presented ourselves. To this day, 20+ years later, I am distinctly aware of the overuse of these UVs, by myself and others, and it does sometimes annoy me (especially in a business setting).

I bring this story up because it very much feels like what this program has done for me, in a different way. Instead of being more aware of what I’m saying in a presentation/when I speak, I’m being made more aware of how I talk to myself. Instead of seeing “Um” or “like” signs, I’m hearing peers and therapists call me out on “yeah, but,” “should” statements, emotional reasoning, and a variety of cognitive distortions. Also, being in the room and sometimes even helping others catch and battle their own distortions, seeing my own battles in other people, it reinforces, like having to listen extra closely to help other presenters be aware of their own UVs. It develops a new mental muscle, as it were, a new awareness in an area that had previously been left unexplored (or worse, avoided).

mind-544404_1280
It’s been interesting getting more familiar with all the stuff that goes on in my brain.
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

After 8 weeks in program, is my depression and anxiety “healed”? Am I in full mental health now? Nope, and to expect differently, when these distortions have been growing and reinforcing themselves over a lifetime is definitely an unreasonable expectation. I wasn’t expecting that everything would be “fixed.” My goal for this program was just to be able to reduce my anxiety symptoms enough that I could be functional again, rather than dragging myself out of bed to work, wearing a mask all day, getting home and doing literally nothing until bedtime, tossing and turning for a couple hours before passing out, and doing the whole thing over again the next day. Sitting here, after getting up in time to take my meds, start a batch of yogurt, make my son’s breakfast, eat my own breakfast at home, getting dressed, taking him to school, going to program, having lunch with group-mates, doing some writing, and getting my first haircut in 2 years (all before having to pick up my son from school), I think I’ve achieved my goal.

Let the growth continue!

When was the last time you recognized a pivotal point in your own journey? What changed?

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