Planner Friday: Dangerous Creatures

This week’s inspiration:  Women reading books, inspired by my second viewing of the live-action (and utterly gorgeous) Beauty and the Beast.  

I started with Belle, of course, then branched out into my next favorite book maven, Lizzie Bennett.  Just searching for “Women Reading” yielded up dozens of lovely classical paintings and more modern work as well, so I was spoiled for choice.

It only seemed fitting to use a font called Jane Austen for this theme.

You’ll notice the new tracking sticker at the bottom of each day; I’ve been noticing a slight alteration in the pattern of my moods lately and I needed data to get a better handle on what effect my most recent meds change has had, so I created the sticker to make note of mood changes between my workday and everything that’s not the workday.  (It’s a scale of 0-5, and I make a little mark on whatever level I feel that symptom was at)

I also used this book washi, which I’ve had forever, though there are a number of similar designs all over the internet.

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Note to Self #3: Don’t it Make Your Grey Days Blue?

Hey Sugarbanana,

Let’s look at a typical month in your mood cycle for a minute.  The average 30 days in your life, with the absolute minimum of self-care work and no external mitigating factors, break down something like:

2-3 Black Days – Unable to function. We talked about these last time.

10-14 Grey Days – On these days you’re basically functional but not doing great. You can accomplish most basic tasks, spend time with friends, but are easily worn out by social situations and often overwhelmed.  You feel worn out or numb most of the time punctuated by crying or going to bed right after work.

7 or so Blue Days – You love blue, so, in your case Blue Days are a positive.  On Blue Days you feel pretty well; you can enjoy fun things, don’t break commitments, you get writing done.  You even cook.  You’re not bouncing off walls but you feel about 70% capable and cautiously optimistic.

2-3 Teal Days – The coveted Teal Day is one in which you feel completely like yourself – and you are aware that being you is a good thing.  These are the days that you feel switched on, even hopeful; you come up with ideas, you’re excited about coming events.  Now, Teal Days can edge into hypomania, which is distinguishable by the underlying anxiety; hypomania is slightly agitated, more of a “I HAVE TO GET THINGS DONE WHILE I CAN” that leads to overscheduling, making grandiose plans, and eventually crashing.  But true Teal Days feel natural and expansive, not edgy.

4-5 Red Days – These are bleeding days, in which case, who the fuck knows?  Red Days, along with the transitional days that lead from one color to another, are unpredictable.  When you were younger your hormones were a much better predictor of how the overall month would flow, but as we head toward your 40s they’re getting less reliable.  Sometimes you feel great while you’re bleeding and sometimes you feel homicidal.  The only real constant is that on the days you’re bleeding the most you tend to feel horny as a ten-peckered owl.  You already know the self-care for that.

Now of course this is all a simplification – depending on the outside world, your physical health, and the whims of the meth-addled trickster god in charge of your neurotransmitters, any of these phases can be longer or shorter, and your cycles don’t run in a perfect monthly rhythm.  This is just a visual aid.

The goal of self-care, for you anyway, is to shift each of those colors into the next best shade or at least extend the span of Blue and Teal days so the calendar looks more like this:

Of course you’d love to get rid of the Black altogether, but let’s be realistic here – those days have always been with you.  As I said before, accept that they’ll come, plan for them, try not to judge yourself for having them.  

The obvious place to start is with Grey Days.  Faithful self-care routines have the most noticeable effect there.  When you’re feeding and moving and offering kindness to all the various parts of you, Grey Days turn into a soft grey-blue, and then into full Blue.  You feel stronger and more stable and from there you can even turn some Blues into Teal – just beware pushing too hard, or those Teals will tend more toward hypomania than happiness.  

Self-care also helps the Red Days skew a bit less chaotic.  If nothing else, movement and intentional eating can cut down on physical symptoms like cramps and body aches, and that’s always good.

That’s pretty reasonable, right?  The cool part is it doesn’t take a herculean effort to do this, just some small changes here and there. 

But where to start?

You start with The Daily 3.

What are three small, measurable things you could do to feel like you made a decent showing for yourself on a Grey Day? 

Remember, we’re talking about a day when you feel essentially functional – you wake up pretty sure you can get out of bed, make it through work, come home, feed yourself, and maybe do a thing or two off your endless non-self-care to do list.  You don’t feel particularly jazzed about any of it, but you know you can do it. 

Aim majorly low on the tree at first.  Maybe three minimums for you would be

  1. 1. get out of bed
  2. 2. brush your teeth
  3. 3. don’t get back in bed before 9pm

So, make it a goal to do those three things every day for a week during Grey Days. 

After a week take a look at those three things again.  Were they all way easy, left you feeling a little silly for checking them off?  Or was one of them much harder than you anticipated? 

Your next step is to drop the easiest one off the list and replace it with something a little harder.  Not a big leap, just something that requires you to stretch a tiny bit.  If you know getting out of bed on Grey Days is a given, replace it with something like Eat a Vegetable.  Still not difficult, but requires a bit more effort. 

Just take those three minimum things and play with them.  If you want you could even expand the list to four or five items when you’re feeling a little better, and have your minimum three plus something more ambitious that week to see how you like it.  That way if that fourth item is beyond your stretch you’ve still accomplished your essential three.  I wouldn’t go much bigger than that yet, though, lest you get overwhelmed.  Maybe make it “three things plus one” where that one is something off your bigger to-do list.  Remember, we’re starting tiny but solid, to give you something to build on.  

An important note:  Not accomplishing all three every day is not the end of the world.  In fact, one of the benefits of this activity is it can help you realize ahead of time that you’re sliding back toward Black, which can happen for a variety of reasons.  If you see that your 3 aren’t getting done for several days, it might be an alert from your brain that you need to take a step back and see where you really are.  As soon as you realize you’re in a bad way, stop worrying about your Daily 3 until you feel better. Do NOT make this a way to judge yourself. Just back off and start over.  Every day you wake up still breathing, you have a chance to try again.  This whole thing is meant to help you design a self-care practice that’s both dependable and flexible, that both responds to your life and can help shape it.  There are no absolutes here, only adaptation.  

Your goal at first is to get to know yourself better.  Some of the things you try on your Daily 3 are going to be really important for a long time, and some you’ll drop almost immediately when you realize they’re just not a priority for you.  You will likely surprise yourself with what you are able to do and how good it feels to check things off.  

Eventually that Minimum 3 can evolve into something pretty awesome, because you can use it to help you achieve long-term goals and create a more ambitious self-care practice through the almighty power of the LIST.  *maniacal laughter*

Till then, love much,

Me

PS – Perhaps you’re a planner sort of person and want a way to keep track of your Daily 3?  You’re in luck – I’ve made some printable stickers for you.  You’ve got three options:

Watercolor
Hamsters
Muted Colors

They’re sized to fit in the sidebar of a great many planners and calendars.

If you’re less of a planner sort, or if you use an A5 binder, you can download and print out this version which is a half-sheet sized tracker you can hang on your fridge, tuck in a notebook, or whatever tickles your fancy.

My Daily Threes pdf

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Note to Self #2: Starting Small

Good morning dear one,

Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

The funny thing about self-care is that you do it all the time even if you don’t call it that. If you’re a living adult not hooked up to life support you’ve been engaging in self-care every day, and like a lot of people you may suck at it.

In your case of course there are considerations beyond being too busy. Having a chronic illness, invisible or otherwise, makes positive self-care way harder just like it makes everything way harder.

Like I said last time, you’re not “normal,” and can’t be. Comparing your own level of self-care to those who are able to function at “normal” levels is not just pointless, it’s toxic; and even if you were of average ability there are always going to be people who can accomplish a thousand things before breakfast and seem to float around the planet in a state of perfect health.

I guarantee those people have problems you can’t see – even the most “together” person gets the shit kicked out of her by life now and then. But you can’t know what other people are dealing with any more than they know what you’re dealing with, so there’s no use in feeling like a failure if your life isn’t an endless Instagram feed of vintage-filtered adventure and kale smoothies that somehow don’t taste like bong water.

You have to pick your battles, especially when things are bad. For a fully able person self-care might include hours of exercise and fresh home-cooked meals every night and weekly mani-pedis. But that’s not you. Besides, you don’t like people touching your feet.

Those Pinterest-friendly lists of “10 ways to practice self-care” aren’t gospel. Fuck spa night! You can barely get out of bed! Again – don’t set yourself up to fail using someone else’s standards.

However, even on bad days, there are ways to do better by yourself.

Start with the absolute basics.

Say you’re lying in bed, paralyzed by the relentless gravity of your own mind, and you know it’s going to be one of those days.

You know what? That’s okay. The world will not end. Forget the rest of the world and focus on keeping your heart beating another day so that when the weight on your chest begins to lighten you’re still here to see the color come back into the world. You don’t have to try and force it – you know that won’t work anyway. All the “positive thinking” in the world won’t turn the planet faster. It’s okay.

It really is okay.

Eventually you’re going to have to pee, though, and that’s a good place to start. After you’re done, wash your hands, then wash your face. Just a bit of water – it’ll help get the sleep gunk and tear residue out of your eyes. That’s it. Just wash your face.

It’s possible this will make you want to brush your teeth. If so, go ahead. If not, that’s fine too, go back to bed. You might not do anything else today, but you did do that.

Next time you get up, eat something. Screw “healthy,” just find something to put in your belly; I’d recommend keeping a stash of something that you know will be there if all else fails. Don’t try to cook – sometimes even the microwave is too much to deal with. On days like this having too many options or too many steps is only going to get you stuck. Find something you can open and eat.

The idea isn’t to try and make yourself feel “better” so much as to make the day a little more bearable.

So don’t choke down a salad or some cardboard-ass tasting protein bar if you don’t enjoy those things. Don’t punish yourself with things you “should” want. Don’t make some “happy thoughts” playlist to force on yourself when you’re drowning. Don’t force yourself to list things you’re grateful for and then feel like a shitty person when you realize you don’t feel grateful for anything right now.

Days like this suck giant hairy goat balls, and you don’t have to feel grateful. Don’t worry about trying to magically shift your mind into a better place. This isn’t a self-help problem. If you had the flu would you consider yourself a failure of a human being? Well, your brain has the flu.

Don’t punish yourself for being ill.

Don’t think “transform” or “fix”.

Think “be gentle.” Think “be kind.”

When you’re feeling better you can work on bigger changes. Like I said, there are things you can do that will help bad days like this come less often, and ways to support your body and mind to give you more resilience when they do come. Wellness is holistic and depends on the interaction of a lot of moving parts, some of which are beyond your control and many of which are not. But those are not concerns for the bad days themselves.

You can be as pissed at yourself as you want for putting off that flu shot, but once you’re actually sick your focus is no longer on prevention, but treatment.

You know those days will happen again – instead of living in constant dread, think of how you can prepare for them better, minimize their disruptive power. You probably can’t stop them, and even predicting them can be a fool’s errand, but you can prepare.

Remember: Kindness. How can you be just a little kinder to yourself on bad days?

Let’s not overcomplicate things – you don’t need some 5-step plan or even a plan, per se, at all; start with just one thing. Think of one thing you could do to make a bad day feel less awful. Wash your face. Put on warmer clothes. Light a stick of incense to make the room smell nicer.

Seem pointless? Look at it this way:

When you’re at your lowest, how do you feel? You feel abandoned, alone. Like the entire world and God above have all left you to bleed to death slowly in the corner of a cold, dark room. Worst of all you feel like you deserve it. Like there’s something so fundamentally broken about you that nothing good or loving should touch you.

Of course none of this is true. But it’s not logical thought that got you here and it’s not logical thought that will get you out. What you need is to feel loved in a way you can accept. We’re not talking hugs and therapy sessions. We’re talking a tiny concrete gesture that tells you, “I love you, and I will not abandon you.” Just a small something to get you through.

Sometimes just that one thing will start a chain reaction that will make a huge difference. Sometimes it won’t and you’ll just go back to bed. But the important thing is that you made it clear to yourself that you were worth caring for, and that you do care.

As they say, if you don’t think tiny things make a difference, try sleeping in a tent with a mosquito.

Buzz buzz buzz…
Love,
Me

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Note to Self #1

Hey sweetheart,

It’s been shitty, hasn’t it?  I mean this whole winter has just kind of eaten itself, shat itself out, and left itself out where you could step in it.  What a bastard.

This one’s been especially bad thanks to the world out there going to hell in a Cheeto-colored handbasket.  People have given themselves permission to be as mean and hateful as they want because why not?  Obviously there are no real consequences, and it can even get them into the White House!  

But that’s not you, and right now you need to pull your head out of Twitter and take a breath.  You’re no good to the world paralyzed by despair, and let’s be honest here, your personality is the kind that runs the edge of empathy-implosion even when things are going great.  You take on too many of the world’s sins as if it’s your job to feel the world’s feels, but you’re still just one girl with a brain full of faulty wiring, and if that wiring burns the house down, there’s nowhere for that compassion to live.  

You’re doing okay, though.  Hey, don’t laugh.  You’re still here, aren’t you?  And yeah, you used up your sick days and got zero work done for over a month, but…so?  In the long term view, what’s the big deal about that?  You didn’t hurt anybody.  You’ve had to deal with far worse consequences from far less intense depression, so, overall I think you’re doing all right.  You’ve reached the point of self-reflection where you’re actually being kind to yourself, so, I take that as a good sign.

Here’s the thing, and it’s a combination of something you don’t want to think about and something really cool, so, let’s just get it out there:  This is going to happen again.  Always.  It’s nice to think about your bipolar going “into remission” or whatever but let’s face it, you’ve spent five years trying a couple dozen different meds and combinations (and that’s after over a decade of doing the same thing when you thought you were “just depressed”) and what have you learned?  Nothing “fixed” you.  There is no “fixing.”  And really, overall, the meds haven’t made that much difference in the way this plays out.  Lithium dulled it all down to where you felt like your heart was wrapped in cotton batting, but everything else just offered variations on the theme, with some working better than others at keeping the lows from going as low, which is important and can definitely keep you alive.  The cycle itself, however, is the same regardless.

You’ll feel all right for a while, maybe even great, but eventually it’s going to slide – maybe not as far, maybe not as long, but you got dealt a pretty gnarly hand by the mental illness gods and basically you’ll be pushing that boulder up the hill until the day you die.  

Yeah. You’re mentally ill for life.  That, as Mark Watney would say, is a real dick punch.  

You could get angry about it, I guess.  The world is full of people who feel nothing deeply enough to be destroyed by it – that’s how we all got in this mess, in my opinion, people thinking everything happens “out there” when the truth is it’s all interdependent and connected and therefore “in here.”  There’s no strand of the Web you can yank on without making the whole thing shake, even just a tiny bit.  But all those folks walking around with the luxury of not having to care, not having to fight just to get up in the morning, not understanding why you can’t just “think positive” and “snap out of it…”  Lucky bastards!  You deserve better!  It’s not fair!

It’s not fair.  Never has been.  It’s awful and hard and it sucks that you have to deal with it – you’ve already dealt with enough just from other people hurting you, you shouldn’t have to protect yourself from your own brain.  It’s shitty, shitty, shitty, and you don’t have to pretend otherwise.  Don’t cheapen the hard work you’ve done by pretending the universe did you a mitzvah here.  Any lesson or gift you get from this is the result of struggle and sweat, of nearly drowning and pulling yourself out over and over again.  

Besides, yelling at the sky will accomplish exactly nothing, whether because nobody’s listening or because it’s nobody else’s job to deal with your shit.  If there’s a God, or a Goddess, or a Whatever, you might get a boost from Her, a door opened, maybe a last-minute save, but it’s your life and your work to live it, not Hers.  She ain’t your fairy godmother, babygirl.  Granted, you figured that out back when you were a kid.     

But there’s a difference between accepting that you’re never going to be “cured” and just giving up altogether.  Because yeah, you’ll always slide, but you’ll also always climb out again.  This too shall pass – like food poisoning or a kidney stone.  Assuming it doesn’t kill you, you’ll see another sunrise.

That’s the cool part…although I understand if you think my definition of “cool” needs some revision.  

Every time, you feel the color draining from the world, and you know you’re sliding down, down.  And every time you claw desperately at those shreds of happiness as if you could bring them with you, but you can’t.  You end up in the pit again, staring up at the night sky wondering why, why, WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS?  And every time, you think, “Is this it? Is this the one that kills me?  Is this the one I can’t beat?  Is this going to be the time I can’t climb back up?”

But then you do.

You climb out filthy and battered and exhausted, but you do it.  

Can I just say how badass that is?  

And you’ve learned, over the years, that there are ways to help make that climb a little less arduous, or to make the pit seem a bit shallower.   There are tricks and practices and emergency measures that, when put in place and used properly, really do help.  

The slightly grating yet accurate term for this is “self-care.”

I think it’s time we took a closer look at those ideas and figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t.  You’ve tried so many things in the last 20 years to alleviate the pain, you’ve amassed a gigantic mental library and arsenal of techniques and philosophies ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous; your application of these things has been a bit slapdash, I’ll admit, but there are plenty of tools in the box.

Time to start going through the box, getting it organized, maybe coming up with a more cohesive and holistic plan – including some measures to put in place for the next time the pit starts beckoning.  I mean sure, often those self-care practices are the first thing to go in hard times – it’s that way for everybody regardless of mental health. In fact entire extremely cynical industries exist to profit on that all too human tendency to fuck up and start over and over and over.  TV ads in January are all the proof of that you need.  

But don’t beat yourself up for being human.  There are definitely worse things to be.

Meet you back here in a bit and we’ll get started.  Sound overwhelming?  Don’t worry…there will be lists.  

Diagrams.  

Possibly stickers.

Knew I’d get you with that one.

Love, always love,
Me.

 

 

 

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That will be all, 2016. You may go.

Let’s start the year with a long-ass confessional post, shall we?

Like most people I’ve always tried to hit the ground running at the New Year, or at least on January 2.  (I figured January 1 was kind of a wash for most resolution type things, as I’m usually tired or hung over or unprepared for whatever it was I wanted to start.)  

Some people are natural sprinters (Dwarves mostly).  I am apparently not one.  Every time I do a “I’m going to start this lifestyle change or improvement on THIS day,” something happens to make me push that date back, and back, and before I know it it’s a week after NYD and I already feel like a failure.  

Not today, Satan.  This year I’m trying something different.  At the risk of using a self-help buzzword, I’ve decided to try “leaning in.”

I decided that the whole “40 Things Before I’m 40” thing isn’t going to happen.  It’s a great idea, but even those tiny goals were already a source of mild stress, since some of them were things I’ve tried and failed to do before.  When I really got down to the truth of things, I realized I need to focus on exactly two things this year:  Writing and veganism.

As I told my Patreon peeps last week, I have lost my passion for my work.  The last couple of years of financial stress and career disillusionment have turned my writing into a job, and therefore a burden; long before I actually managed to get a day job I had realized I couldn’t be a full time writer and do nothing but “hustle” (there’s another buzzword you hear all the time these days, which basically means “work yourself to death and maybe the stars will align for you”) with promotion and marketing and all the things I hate most in the world without it totally killing my creativity.

Some people can do what they love for a living, and the uncertainty and instability and sacrifice just fires them up more.  I need to buy cat food and hummus and prescription medications.  I want health insurance and a bank account free of overdraft fees.  And most of all, I need to love writing and I just…don’t right now.  My relationship to my work has gone from a passionate love affair to a sexless begrudging marriage.  I can’t live like that.

So, saving our relationship is going to be my 2017.  I’m going to start by dedicating time and space, silly things like a desk and hopefully at least one new project.  I’m not putting anything on hold, but I have no release date for Shadow Rising because it’s not even half finished and I kind of hate it right now.  

My other goal is tied into pretty much every aspect of my life, because it touches on issues of self-esteem, self-care, integrity, compassion, making a difference, and doing more than just mourning the world we seem to be losing piece by piece.  Veganism is a spiritual practice to me, and it was certainly never a “diet;” it’s always about the animals, the Earth, and my own integrity.  These days that integrity feels even more important than ever – surrounded as we are with corruption and hatred, I might not be able to do much right now but I can become more of the kind of person who embodies what I want for the world, not what I fear.  

This year instead of a single word I’m working more with Danielle LaPorte’s Core Desired Feelings; I’d read The Desire Map but wasn’t all that inspired by it, but among the half dozen or so end of year workbooks I read this year was her Goals With Soul, which somehow struck a chord with me this time.  I wrestled with a lot of seemingly contradictory feelings until I had the list down to something manageable:

One thing I learned in 2016 is how much of my life is governed by fear.   I am tired of my energy being drained away by fear and anxiety. I doubt I can become truly fearless, but I can work on it. 

Another unexpected but long-time-coming realization was that I have trouble making genuine connections to people; even those I love best know precious little about what’s going on in my head. I’ve been getting the Singer of Connection card from my Faery oracle for YEARS and never really did anything with it; the idea of trying to reach out to people makes me deeply uneasy…which of course means it’s what I need to do. I have no idea how to do that, or how far I want to go, but I know I need to learn more about what it means to feel connection, to like it, to nurture it.

Integrity is a big one for me, both in the veg department and in my whole life. I am terrible at keeping commitments.  Terrible.  I can’t tell you how many things I’ve gotten involved in (usually when I’m hypomanic) only to realize halfway through I never wanted to do it or I got into it for the wrong reasons; then it’s too late to back out gracefully, so I…vanish.  Or make something up.  Or forget all about it.  I try to keep my word with other people, but when it comes to organizations or plans, I have dick for follow-through.  Obviously I don’t want to be that person.  

Now, the last two are the kickers, because they might seem to contradict the spirit of the first three. Delight and Ease?  With heavy ideas like Integrity?  WTH, Sylvan?

Well, that’s where self-care comes in, because my goal is to explore these feelings while still focusing on ease and delight.  By not kicking my own ass, by not “punching today in the balls,” or “hustling” or “putting some gangsta rap on and dealing with it,” to use yet more of the slogan silliness you find on Pinterest if you look for inspirational quotes.  (Man white ladies love to talk about gangsta rap and “thug life,” don’t they?  I wonder if they’re just really high from all those pumpkin spice lattes?)  

I don’t want to do any of those things.  I realized that in 2016 about the only delight I had was at the movies.  There were lots of great movies in 2016, and when I think about real fun or really enjoying something, that’s all that comes to mind.  It’s been so long since I was genuinely excited about something new, or enthusiastic about anything – I was under so much stress about money for so long, now that I have a stable job that (mostly) pays the bills I’m seeing how much of my life got ground under the heel of that fear and sense of failure.  

So I want to spend 2017 seeking out ways to develop my spirit and heart without it feeling like constant backbreaking labor.  I want to breathe deeply again, and I want to fill my cup with something besides poison.  It’s pretty much empty right now, which is sad, but at least offers the potential of something less bitter or, at least, more nourishing to drink.

January therefore is leaning-in month here at Sylvan; I’ll be shifting to 95% vegan from the 80% I’ve been hovering at for over a year (which is still pretty good, all things considered) and also upping the amount of actual plant foods in my diet to help me feel a little better.  The amount of junk food I’ve put in my body this year (especially the last few months thanks to the move) is kind of scary.  I have no desire to lose weight but I have gained quite a bit in a very short time and to me that’s a warning bell – it means my self-care has gone perilously awry.  But my body is strong and adaptable, and she’s weathered the storm like a champ.  I’m unutterably grateful and I want to do better by her.  But I want it to be fun, and delicious, and easy, not a regimen or a 21-day anything.

I don’t have a plan for my writer-rescue, but that’s okay.  I want to cast about in my mind for a new idea, a new story to tell; 9 times of 10 when I get into something new it also energizes all my other work, so having a new book to work on or what have you will benefit all my stories.  I have a few things percolating.  I’m hoping to blog more just about random weird stuff, just to write; even my readers have always liked it better when I just wrote about whatever was on my mind.

So, to make a long post even longer, that’s how things are here at the moment.  I’m not going to dwell on 2016 any more than I have to – that’s why I did the workbooks I did, to look deeply into what went wrong in 2016 and clarify what I need to take with me so I can drop the rest.  This year is going to be a challenge, to say the least, in so many ways, so I’m doing the best I can not to make it any harder on myself than I have to.  

It’s good to have you with me.  

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