Outside Gertie, our trailer, I can see the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Fall was quick this year with the leaves yellow only for a couple of days, then fading to a worn out gold. A cold front came in with snow flurries and strong winds which cleaned the trees of their fading glory. Now the distant mountains are covered in snow and it’s cold but hey, at least I got my hot tea and layers.
I’m sitting by the window and can see Andrew playing fetch with the girls. Islay is running around like a puppy, bounding and jumping and spinning circles in the air. Skye is just trying to keep up. Quick Stinker Islay Blue update: she is on meds and doing wonderfully. She has all her old energy and happiness back. Bad news is we can’t keep her on the meds forever because they will end up destroying her kidneys and liver. So we’re just keeping her happy as much as possible and are savoring every moment with her. I even occasionally let her up on the couch :)
I know this about myself, but tend to forget it, that I can really focus on the negative. This year has been so full of such extreme highs and lows and for a while there I totally forgot about the highs. It wasn’t until talking to Andrew today over coffee that I finally remembered them.
We spent a month in Scotland waking up to the sunrise, driving around in wonderland with green green fields and fat, white sheep, eating mac and cheese and drinking whiskey. Before that we somehow had the money to cruise down the Gulf of Mexico to the tip of Florida. Then we somehow were able to drive around the striking red deserts of Big Bend, Arizona and Utah before coming home for Scotland. It was pretty magnificently epic.
We spent all our money in Scotland then booked it to Wyoming on a wing and a prayer. Only then did the difficult times start. But for some reason that is what I focused a lot of my energy on. Well most of my energy. I wont rehash it, but this summer we struggled like we never have before. We pretty much buckled down in Pinedale, ate soup and pinched every penny. But! we got to go hiking every day and backpacking on the weekends. The Lord provided a private yoga client that took care of groceries and gas.
So why was I struggling so much? Geez, once I write it out this year was not bad at all.
Throughout my years of desperately trying to manage Bipolar I’ve learned the power of the brain. I have learned that I have the ability to train it. I can’t help what emotions come up but I have more control than I realize to affect what thoughts come up.
For example, a thought like “I’m stressed about money” pops into my head. At first, I can’t control that thought. But I can control how long I dwell on that thought. If I continue to focus on that thought it transfers to an emotion like anxiety and depression. I have learned that I can nip that negative emotion in the bud by retraining my brain to focus on something else. So instead of focusing on how little money we have, I can focus on, “Hey, at least I have my health, I’m in Wyoming, I’m living on the road which is my lifelong dream, I have Andrew who is the most perfect compassionate husband in the entire world.” The more I train my brain to focus on what I do have, the negative emotion passes… or doesn’t even start at all. And after a while, miraculously, the negative thought can actually stop popping up in the first place. I trained my brain.
I learned this coping tool many years ago and it practically saved me. Before I knew it, I wasn’t as stressed or anxious. I was making it through the day and not letting my emotions cripple and own me.
Looking back over this Summer I realize now that I did not use this coping tool so well. I in fact, did the opposite and trained my brain to focus on the negative by dwelling on those anxious thoughts, so a difficult summer was even more so.
Andrew and the girls are back inside and I feel safe and loved and warm in my trailer. I see now that I am at another opportunity. I can focus on guilt for how I handled this summer or I can shift my focus to what I can learn from it.
I have found that mental health is a moment by moment decision. I will never arrive. Not this side of heaven at least. This is how my brain is naturally wired (to be stressed and negative) and I will constantly have to work to retrain it. Some days it’s exhausting and I go to my wine to check out, and other days I fight like a warrior, bust out yoga, read my bible and conquer it.
Changing of the seasons always make me introspective. I evaluate the previous season and observe how I dealt with it. I acknowledge where I did good and bad then make adjustments. In fact, we’ve been in a little bit of a reprieve financially and are about to go through another tough time. And I can tell you, I feel ready for it. I feel emotionally prepared. I’m not as stressed and I remember the power I have to train my brain. I’ve seen the Lord provide even when it feels like He hasn’t and I have faith He will do so again. I’m not saying this wont be hard, but I feel ready for it.
I encourage you to observe how you react to negative thoughts. How often do they come up? What are your trigger subjects that keep resurfacing? How long do you dwell on them and what emotions follow? The next time you are hit with a negative thought, try countering it with a positive one. But let me warn you, I can tell you this is a war. You have to fight away negative thoughts and actively choose positive ones. For me it is almost physical how hard I work to rewire. But it can be done.
For me my biggest obstacles in this fight is laziness and the desire to mentally check out. It’s much easier to ignore the negative thought and replace it with tv and wine and food. It takes active hard work to choose to focus on mental health. It’s so easy to ignore, repress and check out. But I don’t think I have to tell you the benefits of confronting and conquering.
On my good days I see my metal health battle as a super power. I repeat, on my good days. But when I’m looking at it correctly, I can see that I have more empathy for others that are struggling. I have become extremely self aware. I’m actually changing parts of myself that I don’t like. My character now compared to who I was 10 years ago is a completely different person. Even my personality has changed, just ask my family.
This is it folks, this life is what we got to work with. We can’t control the cards we’ve been dealt, but we do have the amazing power to sanctify, grow and change.
This subject is very near and dear to my heart so please, if you want to chat about it more reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I would love to hear from you.
Use this opportunity of the changing season to review and reflect. Find a quiet space and perhaps journal or just sit and think. I know for you busy mamas this might be quite a bit harder. But I can tell you this work is worth it. Each day is a new day, this is a new season for you to grow and change. You have more power than you realize.