Reconnecting

This year has been stressful, to say the least; slowly, I stopped doing what made me feel healthy and like myself. Now I’m reconnecting with myself, my body, and my mind.


It’s easy for me to float through life, not present and numb. If I don’t take care of myself, time passes without me, and I lose touch with who I am.


I now know myself well enough to understand my needs and how to reconnect when I’m feeling lost. I have a list of things I need to do daily to stay healthy and connected. As requested by my new therapist, I am tracking these behaviors to keep myself accountable.


Each day I write, read, move, and take my meds.


Writing helps me process my thoughts and emotions. It clears my head of all the unhelpful thoughts that have been ruminating through my mind. My life feels more purposeful after I process, and because of this, I journal daily.


More recently, I have incorporated reading into my daily routine. I often read before bed as a way to relax and clear my mind. Although, I have noticed the more frequently I read, the greater my desire to read. I now find myself taking breaks throughout my day to read a chapter or two. Additionally, reading strengthens the brain, supporting healthy brain cells, unlike watching TV, which kills brain cells.


Movement is also an essential part of my routine. It connects my mind to my body and releases the endorphins I desperately need. Running and yoga are my go-to activities, but something as simple as a walk has the same benefits.


Taking my medication may be simple, but it is a prominent part of my routine, but it is also the most important. My meds stabilize my mood, making it easier for me to accomplish what I need to and can for myself more effectively. Even missing one day can offset my whole week.


Even with the weather getting colder and the amount of sunlight decreasing, I feel stable and comfortable. Not every day is a ‘good day,’ but I also don’t expect it to be. I no longer sit in my feelings; instead, I complete my daily routine, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day seems to have a purpose, no matter how small it may be.

One Day

One day you’ll look at your life and recognize that you’ve reached a point in recovery that you have been working toward all these years.


Last year was a year of change. I considered moving, left grad school, got engaged, built jobs I feel capable of handling, and began to write about my experience with mental illness.


A year ago, I would not have imagined this growth. I can fight through my bad days and still have good come from it. I can process and talk about my thoughts and emotions without believing them. I have healed, something I did not see possible.


I hope you recognize your strength and growth. I hope you understand that you can fight. One day you will look at your life and realize you have reached the point you have been waiting for – health and happiness.

Guilt and Shame

Those living with BPD commonly experience guilt and shame.


Many of my negative thoughts are centered around guilt. Did I wrong someone or hurt their feelings? Have I disappointed, someone? Did I say something I shouldn’t have?


Outbursts triggered by intense emotions can result in me doing or saying things I immediately regret. I feel ashamed, and if I allow it, this emotion will consume me. Thoughts of my wrongdoing replaying in my head, over and over.


From an early age, guilt and shame distorted my perception of myself. Eventually, I learned to work through this.


One factor in my healing process has been learning how to combat and ultimately change these negative thoughts.


I can’t ignore the fact that I do and say things I regret, that would limit my progress. I also can’t blame myself for the symptoms of my mental illness. So focusing on these thoughts is essential to my recovery.


I have more control when I feel healthy, and my stress level is low. I feel my best when I get enough sleep, rise early, and eat well. I am patient and kind with myself. Instead of focusing on guilt and shame, I am moving forward.


My mind still tells me horrible things about myself, but I feel in control. If I say something I regret in response to my emotions, I feel extreme guilt. If I hold onto that guilt, it turns to shame. To fight back, I need to process these emotions and not hold onto them.


I no longer need to hold onto this guilt and shame; I am allowing myself to let it go.


Invisible Illness

My illness is all in my head. Well, it is invisible to you.


I won’t lie; sometimes, I feel guilty because of how I am unable to engage and present myself fully.


I wish I could be carefree and easygoing, but that’s unrealistic for me.


Often, I want others to understand why I’m not those things.


My illness is invisible; others cannot read the thoughts that I have. Others cannot feel the pain and tension I experience. Others cannot grasp the emotions that take over my reality.


Sometimes my presence is all I can manage. I am juggling my mind and existence, and on stressful days that keeps my hands full.


There are days where I feel in control. My thoughts are more positive, and I have more energy. On these days I can be present. I feel like myself, and I can engage. These days remind me why the hard ones are worth it.


If you can relate to my words, I want you to know it is enough for you just to be you as little or much as you can manage. If you can’t relate, I hope you can better understand.


I’m fighting an invisible illness.

Intention

If you follow my Instagram, you know that I’m not one for big New Years’ resolutions. I find that most are instructed and unrealistic. While I could make one attainable goal, I don’t want to be held down by one big thing. I also find that the added stress results in little to no positive change.


This year I thought I would try something different. Instead of a goal, I am creating a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase to set your choices and life.


My mantra for the year is Intention.


Since beginning to work from home, I find myself wasting a lot of time as a reaction or response from an emotion. I feel overwhelmed, and I distract. Helpful, but I want to do something more meaningful. I rationalize this downtime by reminding myself that I need to rest and keep stress down, but resting should only go so far.


Instead of telling myself to buckle down and get tasks done, which would only add anxiety and shame, I am using my mantra to make my choices more intentional.


By intention, I mean mindfulness and purpose. When I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I know from DBT skills that I need to stat mindful and self soothe. While watching TV is very relaxing, it does not keep me aware. Now, when I am feeling overwhelmed, I want to be intentional about how I cope. Music helps me relax and soothes me. To stay intentional, I may use my record player and focus on the lyrics. Taking it all in, being present in life. Or perhaps ill play some music and write. Allowing the thoughts and emotions flow through me. Afterward, I will feel less stressed and more relaxed, but the difference is my actions were intentional and productive.


What is your goal or mantra this year? Why did you choose it? What changes do you want 2020 to hold?

Define Yourself

Remember these icebreaker activities you were required to do in grade school? The teacher would ask for a fun fact or three ways to define yourself. What makes you, you. Those ice breakers always brought extreme anxiety. Now just the fear of all eyes on me or speaking out loud. It was the fact that I had no idea how to define myself.


What I didn’t realize then was that I have the power to choose who I am.


I would answer that question with adjectives others labeled me as. I was shy, kind, quiet, and caring. While at times, I am these things, these characteristics don’t define me.


While I don’t find myself getting forced into an ice breaker activities, I do meet new people. I think about how I introduce myself, and the characteristics people see are ones that I CHOOSE to show.


I don’t want to be defined by aspects that are not me, and I used to see that as something external or out of my control. But now I know that I hold power.


Others may see aspects in you and label you, but at the end of the day- you define yourself.


I thought I could do it all

I’ve planned on being a therapist for the past 12 years, which is more than half of my life. I’ve always planned on being someone’s wife and mother. I planned on being among the small percentage of those with a Personality Disorder who can hold a steady job, be in a relationship, have children, and be mentally whole. I planned on doing it all.


I’ve spent the past year in a Clinical Counseling program. I was exceeding my expectations. My professors told me how much of a natural I was, how I would be useful and help so many people like me. That’s the thing; I was doing well in school. From the outside, it looked like I was doing it all. But I thought I wanted “bigger and better things,” transferring to a top program in Colorado was my next step, or so I planned.


One of my favorite aspects of the world is how unpredictable it can be. I honestly can’t believe I feel this way now. I once viewed the world’s unpredictability as frightening and painful. I’ll tell you what changed. I took the summer off of school in preparation for a potential move. It only took two weeks of no school and no job to realize I was the happiest and healthiest I’ve felt since I can remember. I’m also mentally unstable due to medication changes, but even so, I am so happy, mindful, alive. I understand what a lot of you are thinking – everyone would be satisfied if they had no obligations. Maybe so, but I’ll tell you why that’s not the case for me.


I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life, Depression since age 18, and I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at 21. Although my personality disorder feels constant in my life, I view my diagnosis as an explanation of why I am the way I am. I don’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy about myself and my life. I experienced happiness on occasion, but it was never constant. I was always in crippling fear, overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, despair, and internal rage. I looked like a successful young adult with a Bachelor’s Degree in Graduate School, dog mom, a loving girlfriend, and daughter, devoted friend, athletic, successful, (happy?). I looked like I could do it all, I wanted people to believe that, and I just about fooled myself in the process.


Look ahead 5, 10, 15 years, and what do you want in your life? I want to be a mom, friend, wife, artist, writer, and advocate. I thought I wanted to be a therapist too, but was it my dream or something I did because people told me I was “good?” I would be a competent therapist, and I could help so many people, but would I neglect myself in the process? I throw myself into whatever I’m doing, and it becomes my identity. I don’t want my identity to be a therapist, so drained from work that she struggles with her mental health, neglects her marriage, takes it out on her children, self-sabotages until she ends it all. I don’t want to be that person. I want to be Ashley.


My life felt like it was crumbling underneath my feet. Who am I? What am I going to do with my life? Taking time off of school, sharing my story via Instagram, and meditating, I’ve discovered who I am. I still don’t know what I am going to do with my life, but I do know what I need to feel mentally whole. I need to write. I need to paint. I need to read. I need professional support, family and friends, a family with children of my own, and some part-time work on the side. I need so much control in my life because of my mental illness. I can’t live life like everyone else. I thought this made me broken or a failure, but I would never view a client in this way. That made me think. Is it okay if I can’t hold a full-time job, have a career, or equally accomplish what those around me can? That’s doesn’t mean I’m a failure, and it doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m healthy. I know my limits, how to care for myself (which feels like a full-time job), and how to feel whole. I thought I could do it all, and I can. However, my doing it all is going to look a lot different than yours, and that’s okay.


For now, I’ll love, write, read, paint, run, meditate, and live. I no longer have my life planned, but because of that, I feel free.