The First Skill You Should Master in DBT

bpd, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, mental health, dbt skills, resources
Better mental health awaits

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a multifaceted approach to handling difficult emotions and learning to live in the moment. It was originally designed for people with borderline personality disorder, but can be used for any disordered thinking.

If you have BPD, or any other mental illness, and have researched possible solutions or treatments, you likely have encountered DBT. Maybe you’ve even tried it.

I’ve seen the list of skills and all the acronyms (DEARMAN, anyone?). I’ve tried to absorb and practice what I’ve read. It felt like I had been starving in a desert and then I came across a buffet, eating everything I could. The problem with this method is that it didn’t stick very long. I didn’t have any routine or sense or order to what I did. I would just become hyper-focused on DBT being my solution and would rush to see how quickly I could understand and apply each skill.

DBT is overwhelming, though. It’s incredibly hard to learn everything there is to know on your own, without a therapist. The best route is to find a professional to help you understand each skill and put it into application.

If that’s not an option right now, or you just want some additional help, learning the skills on your own is absolutely possible. I encourage a more deliberate, methodical approach. Slower, but steadier, not trying to learn it all at once.

In fact, I’d say you could help yourself a lot with emotional regulation and handling emotional crises if you just learned one skill from DBT. What skill am I talking about?

Mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

It means being in the moment. It’s that simple–being completely present when you’re doing something. No distractions. No judgments. Just being present in whatever you’re doing.

Some examples: eating without watching TV or reading, spending time with your friend without scrolling through your social media feeds, going on a walk or a hike while appreciating the beauty around you, doing a task or chore and being completely invested on each step, instead of letting your mind wander.

To quote Marsha Linehan, who developed DBT, “Mindfulness refers to the quality of attention or the quality of awareness or the quality of presence that you bring to every day life.  It’s a way of living your life awake.  Which is to say, with your eyes open, instead of your eyes closed.”

The focus here is doing only the thing you’re doing, no multitasking.

Learning mindfulness can help you handle emotions and difficult situations better when you’re in a crisis. Being present and acknowledging the situation for what it is can help you make better decisions. Other DBT skills can be used for when distraction or self-soothing are needed, but starting off with mindfulness in any emotional crisis can help you make better decisions.

Whether or not you have Borderline Personality Disorder, learning mindfulness is a game-changer!

How Will Mindfulness Help You?

If you dive deeper into the principles of DBT, you’ll learn about the core tenets behind mindfulness. It centers around the concept of different states of mind: Wise Mind, Logical Mind, and Emotional Mind. The goal is to achieve Wise Mind. It’s the best frame of mind in which to make decisions and react to situations.

In times of crisis, it’s especially important to find your Wise Mind, so that you don’t engage in harmful or destructive behaviors. It helps you non-judgmentally assess a situation, allowing yourself to feel anything that you might naturally feel, and then make a decision.

As someone with emotional dysregulation problems, I struggle sometimes to react to situations. I get frustrated. I sometimes cry. Sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I storm off. Sometimes I wish I had just stormed off. But I’ve learned to stop and minfully assess the situation. No judgments of my feelings. Acknowledging how my body and mind are reacting, what state of emotion I’m in, and just letting it be for a moment. Once I assess and describe the situation, I’m able to look at things more rationally and make a better decision.

How to Practice Mindfulness

The best way to practice being mindful is to do any activity without distraction.

Load the dishwasher, while taking care to place every dish in its proper place. Notice the color of each dish. Notice the way each one feels. Are the all made of the same materials (glass, plastic)? Or are they different? Do they smell foul? Do they need to be pre-cleaned before being loaded? Focus on every step of what you’re doing and on doing the job properly without letting your mind wander.

You just mindfully loaded the dishwasher!

Sit on your porch or look out your window. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you have a nice view of nature, or are you blocked by other buildings or an unsightly view? Observe the clouds and the way the lighting hits the scenery around it–or doesn’t, due to it being overcast or rainy.

You can do this with your surroundings anywhere. Mindfully observing your current environment can be done literally anywhere and is a great way to practice mindfulness.

You can even mindfully observe yourself! This is also called checking in with your body or a body scan.

Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling. Physically, do you notice any pain or discomfort? Where is it? How is it making you feel? Is there any tenseness or stress held in your jaw or neck? Feel the sensation of your chair or bed underneath you, notice how your weight feels on it and how it changes when you shift around. Can you feel your clothes against your skin if you try to notice it?

Check in with yourself emotionally. Is something bothering you? Do you feel worried, anxious, upset, angry, sad, frustrated, bored, excited, or nervous? Are you hungry or tired at all? Do you feel the effects of these feelings anywhere in your body? When we are angry, we tend to clench our jaw, for instance. When we are nervous or scared, our stomach may be churning or in knots.

Noticing how you’re feeling physically and emotionally is the gateway to effectively practicing mindfulness in difficult situations. It allows you to assess your feelings and your body’s response to them, take a moment, and then make a decision in how to react.

It takes some practice, but it’s worth it! Have you ever tried mindfulness? What’s easy about it and what’s hard? I want to know your experiences and thoughts. 🙂

I Did Personal Affirmations for Four Weeks and This is What Happened

self esteem, self help, self improvement, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression
I did affirmations for 4 weeks for my self-esteem

In my pursuit for a healthier me, I run across many tips that say writing down affirmations is a good method to positively increase your self-esteem. I’ve half-heartedly memorized this tool upon dozens of times seeing it, and then never used it. At least, never properly used it. I always thought, How can I write down nice things about myself when I don’t even believe them?

One day, however, at Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye: Self-Esteem: A Practical Guide. It looked like it had everything I had read about online, except easier to digest and easier to put into practice. All in one handy place, too. I bought myself a fancy leather journal for performing the activities and exercises. What also followed was a renewed excitement for bettering myself.

When it came time to learn about affirmations, I re-read it over and over. I was voracious in my desire to do this right. I reflected on and wrote thoughtfully in my journal to provide good self-affirmations and positive examples to support them. I read them every day, or every other day. I would remind myself of what I had written when my mind would idle. I’d force myself to think back to that list of affirmations whenever I identified myself thinking negatively or downplaying an accomplishment. I thought up new examples when I was at work or driving. I’ve done this for about a month so far.

And something started to happen.

I think it’s actually working.

My negative thoughts are decreasing and I’m finding it easier to remember good things that I’ve done. I can more easily recall things I’m proud of and can identify my good traits, without immediately trying to negate them or somehow wrestle with myself if it’s “good enough”. It’s given me permission to be okay with myself.

It feels good to see progress! I still deal with automatic, impulsive thoughts that bombard me, but refuting them with positive affirmations about myself has been a good practice. I also still tend to have a pretty negative body image, but I can see that I’m gaining confidence in myself, and it’s a really nice feeling!

So what does the book say that helped me so much?

Recognizing Your Positives

The author, David Bonham-Carter, emphasizes something that I think is important. “Acknowledging your own positives is about recognizing what you value in yourself and taking pride in yourself.” He says it’s a personal thing; not matching up to a standard someone else set. It’s pride in your own personal identity, which will naturally be different from your peers (the very people we often compare ourselves with).

So, for instance, I put on my list of things that I’m proud of that I was proud to have finished college at age 29. I actually feel embarrassed when I tell people I graduated at that age. I feel I have to do the whole song and dance to explain why it took so long, maybe crack a joke, get them to sympathize. It feels painful knowing so many of my peers, especially that I graduated with, were much younger when they got their degree. But why shouldn’t I be proud? I finished. My circumstances are not theirs. I had to overcome my own obstacles. I’m proud that I persevered!

In this section, Bonham-Carter also points out how activities you enjoy doing can help you identify abilities, qualities, and achievements you’re proud of and that make you happy.

Activity: Write a list of things you enjoy doing.

Characteristics of Helpful Affirmations

Using your list of things you enjoy, Bonham-Carter shows you how to write affirmations. Thinking of things you enjoy doing is a good springboard if you’re having trouble coming up with things you like about yourself or are proud of. You can see in these hobbies/passions a number of qualities about yourself that define you in a positive way. It may also get you thinking about some accomplishments or goals you achieved that you’re proud of. But not everything has to be some award you won or other tangible means of success. It’s about what’s important and special to you.

Some examples from the book of a fictional woman named Joanna:

  • I brought up my two children as well as I could
  • I am a good listener.
  • I usually try my best at things, even if I don’t always succeed.
  • I am kind-hearted.
  • Despite having a difficult background, I managed to gain professional qualifications as a lawyer.

The author warns the reader against making grandiose affirmations like “I can do anything” or “I’m a wonderful person”. Instead, he encourages you to be realistic and specific. He also encourages you to use examples, where possible, like “I ran a half-marathon and I’m proud of that”, or “I am kind because I have a heart for helping others”. The best affirmations, according to the book, are ones that can be supported by “evidence” (especially since we have such a hard time believing nice things about ourselves).

Activity: Write your own list of qualities, abilities, and achievements. Anything you’re proud of, whether it’s a personality trait or something you did. Reflect on your activities you enjoy, and the values inherent in them, if you need help. Don’t worry about what others might think or how they measure up–what do you think? What are you proud of? What do you think is noteworthy and special?

And that’s it for the summary!

That’s truly all it took for me to start seeing improvement in my self-esteem! If you’re struggling with your own self-esteem, I hope this gives you a jumping off point to start seeing some results. Read your affirmations every day (or try to)! Remind yourself of what you’ve written. Let it ruminate in your brain and stop those nasty, negative thoughts.

What kind of self-affirmations would you write?

The Universe Doesn’t Give a Shit About You

Are you sitting around, wishing you had the life of some Instagram-famous person? Are you jealous of people who do miraculous things for their age, while you can’t seem to even keep it together for a whole week? Do you whine about your life while simultaneously doing nothing about it? Don’t tell yourself, and all your followers, “the Universe has a plan for me”, or “The Universe has a way of working this stuff out”.

The Universe doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s not looking out for you. It’s not sending you signs. It’s not going to make things happen for you.

You are going to make things happen for you.

How do I know? Because I’ve been there too–and this is your wake-up call.

I’ve been in that position of feeling uninspired, in a rut, and lamenting how I’m stuck running in place, while my peers seem to be doing laps around me. I love to wallow in self-pity about it, too. It feels so good. I love to bemoan my current situation and feel frustrated at my shortcomings. It’s certainly easier than actually putting in any real effort to change. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel lost and unsure. It’s okay to be mad at yourself.

But don’t drag the fucking Universe into this.

The Universe isn’t going to apply to college for you. It’s not going to get you that dream job you want. It’s not going to keep persisting when you’re grinding out the hard work every day. If you want to credit the cosmos and believe all things work out in the end, that’s great, but you need to credit yourself, too. You put all the work out there into the Universe and are getting it back because you deserve it–not because of some random chance or because it’s the Universe’s will for you.

It’s one thing to believe in a higher power or the supernatural. It’s another to shrug and say, “Things will fall into place,” or “The Universe has a plan for me”. Yeah, girl, it might–but you’re going to have to actually execute it. Believing in something more than yourself or being a spiritual person isn’t an excuse to slack off, and it’s certainly not to blame when things don’t go exactly as you thought.

I want to empower you and inspire you to do the things you want to do, the things you need to do, and the ugly things you don’t even want to think about. Because you’re capable, you’re resilient, you’re tenacious. You can do those things you dream of–and you don’t even need the approval of the Universe to begin.

So let’s get out there and kick some butt!

What’s The Purpose of Having A Purpose?

I’ve worked a variety of jobs over the past 14 years, over 30 last time I counted. Since the age of 16, I’ve had jobs in retail, food service, mail rooms, corporate offices, and now IT. A lot of these jobs sucked. Jobs that paid too low to work for managers that were too high up on their proverbial horses. Toxic environments, bad scheduling, lack of policies, or lack of enforcing of existing policies, feeling like you couldn’t go to HR about things (or when you did, nothing changed). I admit that I hastily left some of these jobs in my impulsive youth, but objectively, many of them were challenging positions that were draining on both physical and mental health.

Despite those negatives, I noticed many of my fellow employees stayed for years. You will run into them at any job, no matter the type. I’ve talked to the veterans of a company, who agreed that the systems were inefficient, or that management didn’t hold anyone accountable, or that the general culture was lacking passion or enthusiasm for the job. But they didn’t want to leave because “the money is too good”, or “I need the health insurance”, or “I like my schedule here”. They loved to complain, but they loved those benefits more. I got a lot of excuses like that at multiple companies, from multiple people. Some of that goes into the fear of change, but it turns out quite a few people are happy just making a paycheck and going home.

I need to pay my rent, too, but I won’t stick around a crappy job for them. To me, a job should be more than just the benefits you get out of them. I like to feel a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from what I do. I enjoy helping others, being in a bright, positive environment, feeling like I have the resources from my managers to do so, while solving problems, maintaining my autonomy, and having the right people around me.

In short, I crave purpose.

Humans, as a whole, seek purpose because it’s key to finding fulfillment. When we lack it, we feel directionless and lost. When we have it, we are confident, motivated, and more relaxed. Everything falls into place.

Having purpose is such a universal human experience, and yet, in my 14 years of employment history, I have found that many, if not a large majority, of my coworkers did not seek purpose.

At least, not in their job. Your paycheck doesn’t have to be your purpose, though some absolutely see providing for their family and paying bills as the utmost valuable thing they could do–and I see you. I am not driven that way, but I admire you.

What if you’re one of those lost, wandering souls, still looking for your purpose? Should you pursue a degree in a field you’re passionate about? Or look for fancy job titles and high-level positions at your most desired companies? Well, yeah, you absolutely could, if you want. But, it’s not a universal answer to finding your purpose.

I met a cleaning lady from Venezuela at my college who was dirt poor and barely spoke English, but she was so passionate about doing a good job as a janitor and getting to interact with people on a daily basis. She was a light in everyone’s life. She didn’t have a college degree, or a high school diploma, for that matter, but she loved what she did. She said that she loved doing this for the young people and being able to make a difference at the school.

That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about. It’s not tied to a job, but for her, it certainly was, regardless of whether it was a glamorous or prestigious position.

So, is it just finding something you’re good at then and like doing? I think that’s important, too, but it’s still only part of the story.

The important thing about finding purpose is finding something that you feel passion for, that you feel you belong to. It’s a cause, field, hobby, or industry that you feel needs you. It’s better for having you in it, and you’re better for having it, too.

How do you find your purpose? Well, that could be an entire article by itself. In fact, Google is full of them! Amazon, likewise, has tons of books on the topic that you can get for relatively cheap. Maybe I’ll write a post full of resources on this topic, but for now I’ll say this: you’ll know your purpose when you see it.

The amazing thing about not knowing what to do with your life is that you can do whatever you want! It’s so freeing. You can write a book, write a movie, be a counselor; advocate for an oppressed, victimized, or minority group; work with kids, work with animals, work with the elderly, learn to make or build something, be crafty, be YOU.

It can be your job. It can be your side hustle. It can be on a volunteer basis. It can be your hobby that no one knows about but you.

The best way to find out is to do. What do you care about? What gives you light? What are your values? Think about options that tick those boxes and find a way to incorporate it into your life. It may require a bit of sacrifice and rearranging of priorities, but it’s well worth it. I had to cut down on video games to make room for more writing. I do not regret it. We make time for the things we care about most. This is worth the space on your agenda!

If you’re still not sure what answers those questions, then try some things! What are your friends into? Can you try it out with them at a class or workshop? Can they introduce it to you and teach you about it? Look into niche subreddits on Reddit and see what it’s like to get into gardening or woodworking or video editing. It might draw your attention in more, or you might realize it’s not for you at all.

You’ll know it when you feel it. It’ll be what gets you excited. Working at a place that meets all my criteria would be a great way to serve my purpose and feel fulfilled, but if it’s just tolerable while I put my heart into my passion on the side–that’s fine, too.

Have you found a purpose in life? How did you know?

Why We Fear Change (and how to overcome it)

Humans are hard-wired to resist change. Our brains process a life-changing event, like a new job, a big move across country, or news of pregnancy, as being so unsettling that it registers as an error that needs to be corrected. Even when it’s a change that we desired and took weeks, even months to plan, we experience this fear. It may explain why the “cold feet” phenomenon happens to people right before their weddings. The nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach seems inevitable, regardless of intentions or planning.

What is it about change that we fear?

Think about a change in your life, especially a positive one, that you have made and all the steps it took. Moving across country, finding a new job, going back to college, getting married. There was probably a moment where you felt doubt or fear. Why? Can you put your finger on it?

Sometimes we just fear the unknown and hate the thought of leaving our old life, our old friends, our old habits behind. Sometimes, it’s just a mourning of that lost life in favor of a new one, no matter how bright and shiny its appeal was in the beginning. Sometimes, we know it’s the right choice and feel nervous or scared anyway. Our brains don’t like the unfamiliar.

It doesn’t matter that humans as a species are adaptable. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent careful thought and consideration to make this choice and recognize that it’s good for you. We like the comfort of routine and that feels safe. A disruption of that, large or small, feels uncertain and scary.

Afraid to even try

What about the changes you’ve thought about, and know you want to make, like starting a new exercise plan, or pursuing a new career, but you just can’t pull the trigger? What are some of the reasons why you can’t?

“I don’t have the time”, “I’m too tired”, “I can’t afford the gym”, “I need to pay off this debt first”, “I’m not qualified for these jobs”, “I like my schedule at the current place”, “I know how the system works here”.

Do you recognize these for what they are? None of the above reasons are legitimate. Really, you don’t have the time to exercise? Even though it’s something you say you want and you know would be good for you, and you talk to your friends who work out and say things like, “I’m so jealous. I wish I could work out!” What’s stopping you?

We make time for the things that matter most to us. Time is usually the biggest bullshit excuse for not doing something in the world. This year, I decided I wanted to change my priorities. In doing that, I had to look at my own schedule and current priorities and how it reflected with my new goals. I didn’t think I had the time, but I really did. I just spent a lot of it playing video games. The reality here was that I didn’t want to give up that time. I liked doing it, and felt I’d be giving up “too much” if I only spent an hour playing instead of four. That statement is laughably dumb now. Four hours of video games was not getting me closer to where I wanted to be in life.

How to make the change

I encourage you to pull the trigger on the new workout routine, writing your novel, a new career path, starting a family, going back to school, getting your pilot’s license, starting your new business, pursuing your dream/hobby/goal–whatever it is! If something is calling you, but you’re too afraid of the change (or afraid to fail), here’s some scientifically-proven starter tips:

  • Write down an affirmation related to this goal. Something tangible you can refer to and say, “this is why I want to do this. This is why I’m going through this scary stuff.” If you’re that passionate about it, you’ll continue to feel inspired. Make a vision board, if you’re more visually-motivated.
  • Assess your current priorities. Not what you actually value, not what you dream of–where your time is currently going. As stated above, my goals and actual real-life priorities did not match up. I noticed video games were a time sink and I made the necessary adjustment. I didn’t quit them; I adjusted how much I played. I’m also prone to surfing social media even though it makes me feel like crap, time-and-time again. What is in your current routine that doesn’t sync up with your long-term goals or dreams? What’s taking up your time that you can get rid of or cut down?
  • Cut through your other BS excuses. Working out is a good example. Saying the gym is too expensive or that you don’t have any equipment at home is just a fancy excuse. YouTube is full of free workout videos, including ones that don’t need weights or any other materials. I also encourage you to give yoga a try. They have styles for building strength, building flexibility, or for weight loss. I use a blanket, not even a real yoga mat. No equipment, no gym fees, no excuses!
  • Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a real life coach that you meet up with, but it does help to have someone you can go to when you need advice and support. I use the term mentor because I find it helpful to seek out people who have done what you’re doing and been through what you’ve been through. If you have a great support system already, that’s awesome. But it is so amazingly validating and fulfilling to speak to someone who has been through what you’re going through, or about to go through. It can be online, with a total stranger. I’m such a big advocate of online forums. It’s a great way to get myriad opinions and backgrounds, while maintaining the comforting, introverted buffer of the internet.
  • Get started, even if it’s not perfect. You don’t have to have every step in place. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge. There won’t always be details that you can flesh out to the very end. You won’t always know everything at the beginning. Sometimes you just need to get in, get the experience, and fall back on that mentor of yours when you run into a wall. And hey, that first step is usually the hardest anyway. You may be relieved at how it feels to just go for it.

I hope you go for the change you’ve been wanting. I hope everything works out the way you want.

What is it that you want to do but are too afraid to start? What has been holding you back?

What Video Games Taught Me about Real Life

mental health, inspiration, life hacks, video games, depression, bipolar, ocd, ptsd, anxiety, bpd, borderline personality disorder
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I played Super Mario Bros. on SNES when I was a kid. I played it over and over for years. I had Donkey Kong Country I and II, Tiny Tunes, and a couple of Disney games. That’s all I needed. As a teenager, my experience with gaming was racing games on the original PlayStation and Tomb Raider II, which I never beat. I didn’t touch any more games until a few years ago when Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare II introduced me to shooters…sort of.

From there, it was my gateway game into Overwatch, then Titanfall 2, Battlefield One, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny 2, Monster Hunter World, and beyond. I still play today, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to quit this time. Starting at 28 though, I struggle with issues that other gamers mastered years ago–aiming, reflexes, understanding game designs and mechanics without in-depth tutorials, not getting nauseous when I’d switch from a third-person perspective in one game to a first-person POV in another.

However, I maintain it as one of my favorite activities to do, despite maybe not being the best player ever. The experience has been exciting and rewarding. I also realized that you could take away many life lessons from it, if you really looked.

Here’s what video games have taught me.

Patience

I’ve heard this one is a virtue. Also, something about good things come to those who wait? It’s because the early bird catches the worm. Ah! I can’t stop talking in cliches! Video games require a certain level of patience for a variety of different aspects. Learning fighting combos, battling difficult bosses, or navigating a jumping puzzle will teach you in a hurry to slow down and accept your fate. If you want to succeed, you have to be patient. Angry fits of frustration rarely make it happen any faster (that hasn’t stopped me from trying that route a time or two).

It’s a good skill to have in life, too. Take your time when doing important things. After all, haste makes waste. Ah! I’m doing it again. But I do have to remember patience when I’m trying to rush through something. I’ve seen the sloppy results of my rushing, and it’s not pretty. I also do this with BIG IMPORTANT LIFE DECISIONS that I should definitely take my time on. I just like to have things marked off as done, instead of waiting around. I have to remind myself that it’s not just “waiting” around though. Being patient can help you make a better decision and help you tune into your rational side, if you’re prone to impulsiveness like me.

I’ve also had to apply this to my mental health. For example, using a DBT skill or a breathing exercise for the 1000th time. It feels so repetitive sometimes and it’s hard to feel like it’s working. Just remember: it’s not about mastery; it’s about maintenance.

You don’t need to have everything figured out

When I picked up a certain popular, massive RPG for the first time (The Witcher 3), I was intimidated by the overwhelming amount of things to explore and do. It deterred me enough to put the game down. I feared I had done it wrong up to that point and had missed out on something. I later watched a video that said not to worry about some of those bigger things and just enjoy the game until you level up. It made me feel so relieved. Why did I focus so hard on having everything perfect, instead of just playing?

This correlates perfectly to the same feeling I get in my life–planning my career, figuring out meal prep, wanting to have a linear progression for mental health recovery. Like that same video game though, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to have the perfect resume or portfolio before I allow myself to start applying to dream jobs. I don’t need to have blogger mom-style meal plans and Pinterest boards full of ideas to go grocery shopping. Things just do not have to be perfect in order to get started and to reap the benefits.

I’m detail-oriented, but I like to look at the big picture. Maybe too much. You can take that first step, even if you’re not sure what the whole picture looks like. Ah! Now I’m just mixing metaphors.

Don’t forget to have fun!

I admit I struggle to have fun playing video games sometimes. I play to win and to be good at the game. I’m very focused on my personal stats because that’s what being good at the game is to me. That’s what having fun is to me: empirical data with a measurable way to improve. So when I do poorly, I don’t enjoy playing so much. And if I’m not enjoying it, what’s the point in playing?

That’s when I have to change my approach. Do something less serious. Go work on my form in a practice area. Take a moment to chill out. I don’t want to play if I’m not having fun.

I think life should be similar. Not the exact same. Like, don’t go quit your job because it’s not fun or fulfilling. You still need that. But start looking for a new one! Build skills for a job that you really want, even if you have to do that on the side for awhile. Keep your dreams alive. Say yes to more fun things. Say no to more things that weigh you down. Don’t do everything out of obligation, instead pick and choose what’s worth your time.

If people judge you or criticize you for not being a “team player” or being too selfish, remember that this is your boundaries and mental health at stake, not theirs (if you’re accused of not being a team player in a video game though, probably should listen to that a bit). You are not responsible for everyone else’s problems or feelings. It’s a crazy concept for someone like me, who took years of adulthood to figure out to put my needs first. It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. You can take care of your needs, while also being a compassionate, empathetic person. It’s about boundaries. That doesn’t sound like “fun”, but it helps you set limits for yourself and it can help you create parameters for yourself to make more time for things you enjoy.

That’s right. You can order yourself to have fun.

Know who to talk to

Knowing the right NPC to speak to can literally be a game changer. It can move the story along or give you valuable items, completely changing the course of the game. I admit I’ve been stumped while playing a game until I realized I needed to speak to the right person or do something in a specific order, in just the right way, to get it done.

You should also know who to talk to in life. Know when to ask help, know when to reach out, know who your resources are. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. This big ole world feels small and lonely far too often. But you do have those who care and who will listen and support you. There’s always internet strangers in various forums all over the world, too, right at your fingertips. It can feel weird to just reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I need to talk to someone,” especially if you don’t feel like any of your friends are “that kind of friend”. So the internet is a perfect solution to this problem! I’ve used it myself many times.

This can be applied to other things as well. Knowing who to talk to you at your job when you want to move up the ladder or get a raise. Or perhaps, like me, you fancied a career change and you needed outward advice and opinions on what to do next. You would ask people who are in that field or who have made similar moves and seem knowledgeable about the job market as a whole.

It all comes down to knowing who is in your corner. I’ve found it useful to communicate with people on Twitter, as I’m learning the blogging world and what’s “meta”. Just like I do on Reddit when I’m learning a new game.

All that matters is you get through it and you enjoy it

My boyfriend has told me repeatedly that a game he loves, Bioshock, would be enjoyable to me even if I played it on “easy” mode. Playing on easy is sort of taboo among hardcore gamers because it means you didn’t earn your way through it properly. It’s almost seen as cheating because you aren’t of the same skill level as other people. To this, my boyfriend offered: “The point of the game is to have fun. If you have to do it on easy, then who cares? It’s a video game. That’s what it’s for.” He’s right. I hold myself to such high standards when gaming (as I mentioned) and I hate using any crutches or advantages that might make me look less legit. But what he said about this really clicked with me.

Similar to the point about having fun, all that matters about your choices in life is that you’re getting through it and doing what you want.

You don’t have to do things “the right way”, like I mentioned above. You don’t have to do what you don’t want to do, just because you think you should.

This is your life. You can do or not do what you want. Your decisions are not set in stone. It is not too late. You’re not too old. It’s not impossible.

I say this not as some successful career person who has had an illustrious life filled with amazing adventures and meaningful endeavors. I’ve been here and there. I’ve made good choices and really, really bad ones. I’ve done things I’m proud of, and seemingly far too many things I regret. Nothing really sticks for too long, it seems. I find somewhere I belong and then I’m gone when it no longer fits me. I haven’t let that stop me from having a passion, from having goals. I still cherish experiences and connections above all else, and I can look at those moments from my past and present life as things that warm my soul the way nothing else can.

I sometimes do feel like it’s all over. It’s too late. I suck at life. Wallowing in that sentiment will not help me feel better about it. It won’t change anything. I try to focus on the positive, great memories, while also keeping my eyes firmly on the future. I am always in the pursuit of that which fulfills and enriches my life. From people and connections, to experiences and events, to passions and hobbies.

That’s what my 2019 is going to be about–people, passions, and a lot more video games.

What other lessons can we take from video games?

Comfort Vs. Pleasure

In my pursuit for better mental health, I’ve found a lot of self-help and recovery resources that recommend comforting activities for when you’re having intensely negative emotions or massive anxiety. The purpose is to calm you down and distract you from the negative or uncomfortable situation. I’ve also seen mental health tips like, “do something that you love” or “take up a hobby,” to encourage emotional happiness and decrease stress.

These both sound great and all, but it can be frustrating if you don’t see any practical application, or if the given examples don’t actually do anything for you.

When I tried to create my own list of comfort activities and pleasure activities, I realized that I was confusing comfort and pleasure. I’m not very good at self-care, and it became difficult to connect to someone else’s generic list, much less find the difference between comfort and pleasure. I decided to sort out the differences so that, when I needed it, I’d engage with the proper self-care technique.

So in order to better serve my mental health, I have to distinguish between comfort and pleasure. It looks something like this:

Comfort is soothing, distraction, calming, and healing

While it can certainly be enjoyable, the main benefit is that it is soothing and calming. It will both comfort me and distract me from any harmful stimuli (especially negative thoughts). Something can be distracting, like Facebook, but not necessarily comforting though. Or it may be comforting to stay in pajamas and underneath the covers, but that isn’t distracting you or helping you with your difficult situation.

I also realized that other people’s definition of comfort, like reading a book, might not match mine. I had to figure out from experience what things actually calm me and heal me.

Some comforting things to me would be:

  • Listening to soothing, relaxing music (smooth/chill EDM is my go-to)
  • Tactile comforts like playing with kinetic sand or a fidget cube
  • Funny videos, especially stand-up comedy (maybe not classically comforting, but laughter is good for the soul, and it can change my mood so quickly)
  • Lighting a nice-smelling candle
  • The smell of printed magazines or books, speaking of nice-smelling things
  • Taking a bath with Epsom salt or Eucalyptus oil
  • Using face masks–i like to feel clean and taken care of
  • Opening the blinds during a sunny day or stepping outside for a moment to absorb some sunlight
  • Going on a walk, if I’m able to
  • Looking at the stars/galaxies (outside or pictures online)
  • Breathing exercises

Pleasure is fun, enjoyable, rewarding, exciting, and enriching

Like I said before, pleasure and comfort can cross paths, but the main benefit of seeking pleasurable or enjoyable activities is ultimately about increasing happiness. Seeking hobbies and interests which you’re passionate about gives your life purpose and fulfillment–or they can just be an enjoyable way to unwind and have fun.

Here are the activities that really get my blood pumping:

  • Music – especially listening through a good pair of headphones or a nice speaker, while I do chores or some other mindless tasks with my hands
  • Connecting with people who make my heart happy, who make me laugh, who really get me
  • Writing
  • Playing video games
  • Learning new things
  • Making videos/short films to tell the stories I envision

When to Use These Activities

Now that I know the difference, here is how I like to utilize the items in each category:

Comfort:

  • High anxiety
  • Dissociation
  • Stressful situation
  • Being upset or sad

Pleasure

  • Bad mood
  • Depressed
  • Feeling listless or restless
  • Being in a rut

What are some things on your comfort list or pleasure list?

When You’re the Toxic One

“I hate drama,”I tell my friend, dramatically. “I’m just a chill kind of person” (I’m not). “I just can’t stand all the negativity around here,” I tell another friend on another day. “It’s just so awful. No one knows how to do their damn job!” I keep complaining and slowly lose the will to give anything beyond like 60% effort. “Have you heard about ole what’s-her-name? She did something subjectively terrible, and even though I don’t even know her, I’m going to judge her harshly and say nasty things about her. Yeah, she’s the worst. I’ve never made any mistakes.”

While this fake dialogue may be just slightly dramatized, it does represent a problem I’ve noticed with myself. Far too much negativity. I’ve been the reason someone has rolled their eyes. I’ve been the person that maybe has been avoided because of my attitude. I’ve been guilty of being the type of person I complain about.

Venting and complaining are necessary outlets and I engage in them frequently. However, I’m still victim to my own feedback loop of commiserating and the “high” it produces. After all, dopamine doesn’t care if it’s a positive or negative emotion.

So what’s the answer?
Be positive and happy and shit, right? Wrong. I think the opposite of negativity and toxicity is empathy and compassion. Understanding where someone else is coming from before writing them off as a fuck up. The ole “walk a mile in their shoes before you judge” kind of thing. I certainly know I’d like some empathy if the situation were reversed.

I think I’m a pretty empathetic person in general, but why is it at work, or with family, or with close friends, I can be so negative and judgmental? Shouldn’t I cut people some slack, especially those I am closest to or those I’m around the most?

That’s what I’m working on. Empathy when I want to complain. Saying something nice, when I want to say something mean. Not saying anything when I can’t be nice (there’s an old adage in that statement, too). I’m obviously completely imperfect at this, but it’s a start. I’m aware of it now, at least, and I’ll keep getting better.

Are you guilty of being toxic sometimes? What do you do about it?

I Faced My Fears in 2018

fear anxiety mental health

I am afraid of fear itself. I’m afraid to feel negative emotions in any situation whatsoever, afraid to encounter something that I can’t handle, afraid to face the unknown–I fear anything that I think might make me feel afraid of any of these things. That should be anxiety’s mantra: already afraid, so you don’t have to be. 

There are many sources now that show how facing your fears can actually help reduce anxiety. It’s called exposure therapy. It’s proving to your brain that there actually isn’t a threat when you’re safely secure on a bridge, looking down. It’s showing you that you can get through a crowded DMV and handle your business there without having a breakdown. It’s putting fear back in its place for things that are actually threats to your well-being.

So what fears have you faced recently? Here’s some of mine.

  • Drove to Kansas City (8 hours away) for a gig in a highly competitive industry for little money to do a high-pressure job during a huge event.
  • On a number of occasions, I was able to address issues with coworkers without lashing out in anger or cowering behind guilt and shame for feeling how I felt.
  • Was able to ask for help at work and not feel afraid, or if I did feel afraid, I stood my ground to get answers/clarification in order to properly do important tasks.
  • Moved into a new place that I had never seen with roommates I didn’t know due to an immediate need for moving out of my old place
  •  New living situation has forced me to reevaluate my expenses and work harder to keep up. It’s extremely intimidating and I put off this change for a long time due to fear.
  • Initiated friendly conversations with strangers.
  • Made calls that I needed to make, to leasing offices, to renters, to doctor’s offices, to customer service help desks.
  • Spoke up when my order wasn’t quite right.
  • Asked for help with a couple of things in my personal life that were difficult to ask.

These are just a few of the fears I faced. Some are specific and only happened once, while others are broad and recurring. The ones that I had to face multiple times lead to me mastering that fear and I never had to feel–oh, wait, no. That’s not how that works. I still feel fear. I’m still an anxious person. I probably always will be.

That’s the biggest thing I learned. Facing my fears, even a list like this that I’m proud of, didn’t make me some master of conquering my fears. I’m not a whole new person who courageously knocks down every obstacle that comes up because I feel no fear. Rather, I learned how to handle scary situations, despite the fear. I can survive even with the knot in my stomach, even when my heart races, even when I feel the pull of dread dragging me the opposite way. That’s what bravery is–not the absence of fear, but standing up to the challenge in spite of it.

What fears did you face?

The Guide to Recalibrating Your Priorities

I’m already looking forward to 2019. By that, I don’t mean I’m eagerly anticipating it. I have my sights set on the future. In 2019, I will be in a new apartment with new goals. A sudden change in my life forced me to change my perspective. It shattered me at first, but I bounced back and now have taken a good, long look at myself.

Therefore, I’m focusing on what my priorities are–and figuring out what they even are now. I feel like I’ve sort of lost myself along the way and though I’ve attempted many times to right the ship with minimal success, this change in my life is forcing me to follow through. I refuse to just be swept up in the madness of all these transitions. I can still enjoy myself and fulfill my desires.

So if you want to reflect on yourself and what you want for your future, you can use these points that I used!

What Gives You Light

This is about what makes you “you”–something that both gives you contentment and peace, but also energizes you with passion and fire. For me, it’s connecting with others, usually one-on-one, or in small groups, either over a common interest or career field or through a good chat and a laugh. It also gives me light to help others/benefit the world in some way, most prominently through volunteering.

Commit to doing what gives you light, even if it’s the smallest opportunity.

Related: Do What Gives You Light

Self-Care

Self-care for me, like I imagine it is for many others, is difficult. I didn’t really “get it”. I thought it was about pampering yourself and living up the “treat yourself” motto. To a degree, it can be. But it’s all about what works for you. At first, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. It was a startling realization that I didn’t know what truly relaxed me and nourished my soul. There’s quite a difference between things you enjoy and things that are good for your physical or mental health.

Related: Comfort Vs. Pleasure for Taking Care of Yourself

For instance, while I love to write and have several fictional works that I enjoy writing, it doesn’t relax me or make me feel “taken care of”. Accomplished? Sure. Excited about possibilities? Absolutely. It’s fulfilling, but not exactly nourishing. However, I found that I love baths and face masks. Simple, relaxing, rejuvenating. I enjoy being outside, too, even if it’s just for a light walk. Listening to music is another tactic I use to just zone out and decompress.

This kind of self-care can put you in the right frame of mind to continue on with your day, especially if you feel frazzled or overwhelmed. It’s also a great way to wrap up a busy and full day. You just have to find the right way to take care of your mind, body, and soul.

Related: The Bare Minimum Method of Self-Care

What You Need to Improve On

This one is less fun, but it keeps in perspective what you can do to grow and change. It may not be your favorite thing to reflect on, but it’s necessary sometimes. There are plenty of workbooks and resources online to help you tackle almost any issue, like self-confidence, self-esteem, anger management, or establishing healthy boundaries. I also find going to specialized forums helpful, too, because you get a lot of great anecdotes and personal advice. I especially like the ones that are mental illness-specific. 

Hobbies/Interests

I literally have a list of hobbies and interests in one of my journals. It’s important for me to see it in writing so that I “remember who I am”, so to speak. I tend to get swept up in stress or depression and drift along. It’s nice to remember the things that are fun for me or interest me because honestly, the haze of a mental illness can make you forget so much. Sometimes I search for classes or workshops regarding that interest, other times I will look up videos, as appropriate. It doesn’t mean I’ll pursue it, but it’s fun to learn more about it, at least, and see the possibilities. If it’s a hobby I can personally engage in, of course, spending time actually doing it can make me feel more connected to myself and overall more fulfilled.

My big obstacle here is mental and physical energy. It’s in short supply lately. Surprisingly, the list is comforting. It’s nice to know those things will be there for me when I’m able.

Priorities

Taking all the above into consideration, what are my priorities? The facts for me are as follows:

  • I’m moving (which is super stressful and very involved)
  • I have little energy when I’m home
  • I do know what I like to do, what fulfills me, what nourishes me, and what I need to work on

So with all this in mind, what is feasible for me in order to feel more rejuvenated, more connected, more alive, even during a time of stress?

  • Start volunteering again, even a very minimal commitment.
  • Make one “friend date” and go through with it before making any other social plans
  • Make more of an effort to connect and network online with other mental health bloggers

That’s it. These are the small, short-term goals I’ve decided to make for myself. Anything else is a bonus. But these are the things I can work toward in my current state, without feeling overwhelmed by all the things I should or could be doing.

I’ve certainly had my ups and downs this year. I just hope I can make the ups last a little longer next year.

What are your goals for 2019?