Learning How to Paddle

During the last week or so I have been really reflecting on my mental health journey, which really only began in an intentional way in the last couple of months. I think I’ve been thinking about it because I have several “a-ha” moments and things seem to be working.

In the past, my motivation, moods, and overall emotional state seemed to shift back between highs and lows. It was never as pronounced as a bipolar disorder but I think it could be classified as cyclothymia, though I don’t know if it is technically serious enough for that. Regardless of whether I could get a diagnosis, this cycle of ups and downs every few months was causing problems in my life. There was rarely more than a week or three of stability, I was either up or down. Motivated or depressed. I was never just “good”. I was at a point where I had the resources to seek help, so I did.

Sidebar: It is worth noting that I took into consideration my diet, sleep patterns, exercise routines, etc. While all these things helped they did not get me to the stability that I needed.

I felt like I was rafting on a river without paddles or map. I didn’t know how to maintain a steady course and I was just thrashed around without much real control. I could put my hands in the water and guide myself a little bit (maybe even a lot in an emergency) but that was exhausting and rarely fruitful.

Getting mental help has assisted with that.

First, after consulting with a psychiatrist and psychologist with the VA I was prescribed Buproprian. This helped, but it certainly wasn’t a “fix”. Taking this medication was kind of like finding a fairly calm and predictable part of the river that I could get my raft into. I didn’t have much control based on circumstances but I was in a position where circumstances weren’t as jarring.

Second, I started seeing a therapist, specifically one that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness meditation. Therapy has been like finding paddles for my raft. These tools help me navigate the river. Sure, it is difficult at first because they are unfamiliar (and there is a tendency to ignore them because they are difficult to use) but over time my muscles and skill with the paddles have grown. Now, when I see rapids or an eddy on the horizon I can prepare myself a little bit.

I still have a lot to learn and my skills are developing, but I’m happy with the progress. A big thing I’m focusing on right now is understanding the reasons for my fears, preferences, and such. Some of it surely linked to my upbringing and military service and being cheated on by the first two women that I loved, and others are linked to my feelings towards death and love. Unpacking those reasons allow me to address them and/or avoid them. It doesn’t fit really well into the river analogy but maybe discovering the source of my struggles is like finding a map of the river.

And, maybe most importantly, by working to find the root of my struggles I can forgive myself and others, and move on.

So, what are some of the things that I’ve noticed this week?

  1. RIA is coming kind of naturally. Recognizing my feelings when they happen, identifying what they really represent (usually fear), and addressing them in a systematic way is starting to be intuitive.
  2. I’m less anxious about being late for things, which has made my partner very happy.
  3. I communicate more clearly with my partner and am more assertive. I’m willing to say “no”.
  4. I am proactively seeking a social network here in Wilmington. I went to the Unitarian Church (and their after-service BBQ) and have contacted several organizations that I’m interested in working with. I’m also researching volunteer opportunities and may take singing lessons. Oh, and I started yoga again. Six months ago I would have never done these things, I know that because I didn’t do these things even though they’ve been on my “want to do” list for about two years
  5. I sent in paperwork to become an LLC and am actively working towards long-term goals
  6. I feel good, grounded, and much more confident. My body image issues have gone from a roar everytime I step by a mirror to a calmer growl (and sometimes silence).
  7. It has become easier to log off of Facebook and Instagram, or to engage in a fruitful way and then go about my day. In fact, I find social media kind of boring now.
  8. I’m way more productive and procrastinating less
  9. I don’t feel guilty for down time
  10. I’m not really using SnapChat anymore. I realize I was using it for external validation, which usually ended up making things worse when I tried to get it. As my therapist and I have worked on my body image issues a bit I have found less need for that.

I don’t make any universal statements because I think the world is rarely (if ever) universal, but I will say that I think everyone should see a therapist if they can afford it. Everyone. Even if you have no noticeable problems there is such benefit from talking to someone who has an outside perspective and is trained to help with the mind. This is the beauty of specialization, I can turn to a professional to provide knowledge that I don’t have (and don’t have the time/resources to acquire). A therapist also provides a level of accountability that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

So, there you have it. I’m learning to paddle along the stream of life. There are plenty of rapids and eddies ahead, but I’m slowly growing stronger and will be able to handle them with more and more gentleness and ease.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

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