What a difference a year makes!

Fearful Thinking

A few weeks ago, Adam and I went on a vacation to relax after a whirlwind year of moving to a new home in the country. As someone who enjoys blogging, I shut down completely due to the stress: I was overwhelmed with my emotions and was challenged with fearful thinking. With all the work involved in moving, I was also physically exhausted. Looking back over the past year, Adam and I are amazed at how well I—as a sufferer of a mental illness—have coped. We knew it would be a difficult year for me, and if you have read Adam’s posts from May and June, you can see how at certain times he “managed” me (or didn’t).

For myself, this has been an exploration of my fears, which isn’t something new for me. In our book Bittersweet: Married to Mental Illness, Adam writes about how I’ve faced my fears of coming off of psychiatric medications, of my body image issues, and of letting go of a lifetime of unsuccessful dieting. But the fear of moving from our home of 25 years was bigger than all of those put together. The idea of moving stretched my mind to the max and my anxiety reached the heavens. My emotions frequently sent me to bed with sick headaches. What held me together was having my past experiences under my belt. I had proof that I could cope without psychiatric medications; I had proof that I could love my body after years of hating and loathing it; I had proof that I could turn around a lifetime of powerlessness over my food. I could look back and observe how absolutely frightening all of those challenges were and how I had made it safely to the other side. If I could do it then—with all the amazing tools I had discovered—I could do it now with this move.

 

Five Tools

 

Positive Thoughts

What tools am I talking about? The first tool is: I am not my mind. My mind is not in control of me; I am in command of my mind. I’ve learned that the mind will calm down when you think thoughts that the mind cannot argue with, thoughts that reflect our true nature. My favourite mantra is: “I am brilliant, I am amazing, I am the creator of my own existence, all that I am is love, all that I am I command, I am sufficient.” At night, when my anxiety interfered with me going to sleep, I would repeat this mantra, and it would help to calm my mind so that I could fall asleep easier. During times of extreme stress when I thought I was going to lose it, I used the words: “I choose to not struggle. Life is easy. I choose to make it easy.” With those simple phrases, I was able to open up and allow decisions to take place, rather than being in a tight, controlled state of fear and stuck in “decision paralysis.”

 

Comfort Foods

The second tool was knowing that food can be comforting during times of stress. For most of my life, I tried to avoid eating for comfort, because I believed that it was wrong and showed weakness. As a result of this deprivation—or diet mentality—whenever I would weaken and eat comfort foods, I would find myself in full-blown binges. I had an epiphany in 2010 when I read Susanna Dee’s non-dieting weight-loss book I’ve Tried It All! Now What?! in which she writes:

“From the moment we are born, we associate food with comfort and emotion. Breastfeeding is the epitome of correlating food with comfort and emotions. Eating is and was always meant to be a very sensual, pleasurable, nurturing and satisfying experience. For anyone to suggest other wise is nonsense.”

Susanna’s book, plus other non-dieting weight-loss books, made me realize that I can have my comfort foods without it leading to overeating or binge-eating. So, during this past year, food has been a huge stress reliever, but I’m still in my size-10 jeans.

 

Quality Foods

The third tool was my vitamins, spring water and eating organic foods whenever possible. Taking my vitamins was my #1 priority in the mornings, as my routine was out of whack and I knew that they would help keep my body in balance. Same with drinking spring water (or well water) and eating organic. Back in 2008, nutrition was my first step for regaining my wellness, and it has stayed with me ever since.

 

Some Exercise

You would think that exercise would have been my fourth tool, but with the stress of the move, I just couldn’t keep any routine going as we were so busy flipping our home to sell. I had to stop bellydance classes, and I stopped rebounding when the rebounder went into storage. However, the move was very physical and I certainly kept busy with decluttering, packing, unpacking and renovations. Whenever there was a chance to go for a walk, I took advantage of it. I might not have walked our dog, Kimy, as much as Adam, but I made an effort to get out and get some fresh air.

 

Faith

The fifth tool I had was “faith.” My spiritual path has lead me to understand that I’m here for a short time to experience what life has to offer, and I knew that this would be a neat thing to experience—no matter how it turned out. The spiritual “law of attraction” came into play many times, like when our closing date on our old home turned out to be Adam’s birthday, and the date of possession of our new home was on my birthday. A few months after living in our new home, I learned that my hairdresser of 3 years was the same hairdresser of the previous owner’s wife and had been for 30 years. These “coincidences” made us smile, and added spice to our move.

Even with those tools, there were many “pyjama days” when I was completely overwhelmed and I couldn’t get out of bed. There were many days when my emotions were frayed and I constantly bickered with Adam, but I held on to my past experiences and kept open to the possibilities in front of us. I took care of my health as best I could and continually said “yes” to life. Back from a relaxing vacation, we are now settled into our new home in the country. We are looking forward to enjoying our first winter here. What a difference a year makes! And what a difference your outlook on life can make.

Sara Hardy

Moving with Mental Illness: Part 2 – Managing the Overwhelmed

What not to do

After months of packing and fixing up our old home, we finally moved to our new home. More months of unpacking and fixing up our new home lay ahead. It was a challenging prospect for me and overwhelming for Sara. I would like to say that I managed it with the same brilliant insights that I did when helping Sara to overcome her fears. Was my understanding of Sara’s feelings of being overwhelmed another tour de force worthy of another book? … Err, no.

The organization and planning for moving into our new home was daunting, and I soon became focused on getting as many tasks done as quickly as possible. I was tired of living out of suitcases, sitting on lawn-chairs, and having my office consist of the kitchen counter, some shoe-boxes and ever-disappearing pens. Sara was as excited about our new home as I was, and she was just as eager to move in. However unlike me, Sara was not up to working nonstop until all the jobs were done. In the rush of the move, I forgot that, and I ignored my mentally ill wife’s frequent complaints. Today marked a low point: Sara went on strike.

Crunch All the Work Together

Before we moved our furniture into our new home, we needed to refinish the well-worn and warped hardwood floors, replace the twenty-year-old carpets, paint the walls (“hearing-aid pink” was not to our liking), and build a fenced area for our dog. Doing all this was beyond my skills, so contractors were required. With a singular focus on efficiency, I, of course, wanted them to come one right after the other, like an assembly line of renovations. This was too much for Sara, because she would not be able to rest and recover after strangers had been roaming her home. I was oblivious and pushed ahead. As fate would have it, the contractors’ schedules were too full to accommodate my demanding schedule. What I planned to be done in ten days actually took two-and-a-half months—much to Sara’s relief. Lesson: Don’t crunch all the work together. Re-la-x … and space things out.

Proudly Present Your Lists Over and Over Again

I love lists. They organize my thoughts, help plan out the schedule, and get all those pesky details out of my head and on to paper. I had lists everywhere—some running several pages in length. Lists on the computer, lists in notebooks, lists on sticky notes, lists on backs of envelopes. Great stuff! It was with considerable pride that I showed Sara my lists. “See,” I told her, “everything is under control.” Wrong! What I did not realize was that these wonderful lists showed Sara how much work was still to be done. She thought that I wanted all the work on these lists done straightaway (I can’t think why). Result: the total meltdown of my overwhelmed wife. Lesson: Keep your lists to yourself—a lesson I ignored time and time again, with the same results.

Relentlessly Press for Quick Decisions

Door handles, towel racks, toilet-roll holders, cabinet knobs, shelving, curtains, curtain rails, carpets, rugs, coffee tables, etc., etc.—a billion-and-one new items for our new home. What style? What colour? What texture? How much? How many? Where to put them? Which store? I am the “decide-quickly-repent-leisurely” type of person. Sara, being in almost every way my opposite, is a perfectionist who takes forever to decide on the perfect colour, style and texture. Although her decorative decisions are always better than mine, I quickly became frustrated with the delay and relentlessly pressed Sara into making decisions. I wanted to buy the item, install it, and (with immense satisfaction) cross it off my list. Because of my pressure, items were bought before Sara was happy with her decision … and of course later returned. One day, Sara could take it no more. She had reached the end and was paralyzed to make any more decisions. Decision paralysis is a well-recognized mental state. I finally surrendered to the inevitable and took a Zen-like approach to waiting for Sara to make a decision. Lesson: Let your mentally ill spouse make her decisions in her own time. Life will not end if the old cabinet knobs remain in place for (yet) another month. … Oh yes, and keep your receipts.

Do It Now!

“Do it now!” has been a philosophy that I have embraced in my professional and personal lives—not because I love working, but because I want to thoroughly enjoy my relaxation without unfinished work hovering over me. Sara’s philosophy is “Do it when I am ready—mentally, physically and emotionally.” I had to re-learn how to slow down—a lesson I had forgot in the excitement of the move. Lesson: Prepare for the long haul.

After all this, Sara and I have decided that we really, really like our new home, and that we are never ever moving again.

Adam.

Moving with Mental Illness: Part 1 – Overcoming the Fear

Moving when you have mental illness

Adam and Sara: Moving with Mental Illness

My Dream vs. Mental Illness

I stood in a grocery store, quite giddy with anticipation. A path to my dream now lay open. It seems a strange place to start our moving experience, but there is, of course, a very good reason for being in that food store before even looking at any houses.

My dream was to leave the city and move into the peace and quiet of the country, surrounded by nature. Ultimately, it would offer a better life for both of us, but moving home is one of life’s most stressful events. Could we manage it? Sara shared my dream—sort of—but she was terrified of the change. We had lived in our suburban home for 25 years, and she feared that by moving out into the “boonies,” she would be isolated and all the crutches of her life would disappear. She had battled hard to manage her mental illness and feared now losing that battle. The most important crutch was her food. Sara is convinced that her diet of organic, high-quality food is vital to her managing her illness. Do grocery stores selling such food exist in rural areas? Our experiences travelling in the countryside did not offer much hope. The number of customers to support such niche markets are not there in small towns and villages … or so we thought.

Finding Food

When you are struggling with your health—whether mental illness or otherwise—you tend to fear change, because you are living on the edge of functionality and any change could possibly make matters worse. You may intellectually foresee the possibility that things could become better, but emotionally, the fear rules the day. I had to overcome Sara’s fear of change—particularly such a massive change like moving home to an entirely different setting. To do this, I found areas that I would like to live and took Sara over and over again to the small towns that served the rural area. We spent many hours driving to the same places. It may seem repetitive and inefficient, but Sara had to be completely comfortable that she would have all she needed to continue to manage her health. Hence, our trip to that grocery store. This store offered plenty of organic foods and nutritional supplements. Sara was like a kid-in-a-candy-store checking out every aisle. I was immensely relieved.

Finding Friends

Another fear of Sara’s was being isolated. Much of Sara’s social life is online. The internet is Sara’s lifeline to the world, and particularly to her online friends. To lose them was simply not an option. There was no way she was going to return to the isolation that existed during the depths of her illness. In the city, no one thinks of lack of high-speed or even the absence of internet. In the country, those are issues that must be thought of. I looked at coverage, technical options, whatever it took. Sara had to have internet (and so did I for that matter—a night of commercial-free Netflix viewing is a lovely way to end a busy day). The solution existed in the form of the “hubs,” which access the internet via cell-phone towers. It is an expensive option, but I was not about to let that stand in the way of fulfilling my dream. I had, of course, ensured that we had cell-phone coverage—some places did not, and so they were dropped from our list of areas to live.

It was not only the lack of her virtual friends that scared Sara, but also a lack of “in-the-flesh” friends. She would be leaving her suburban friends behind, so I had to ensure that the area we would be moving to would have lots of social potential. Again, thorough research and lots of touring had to be done. The area that we finally chose—being a tourist and retirement area—has a burgeoning social world. Sara soon signed up for Tai-chi classes, and there is a local dance school that offers belly-dancing classes.

As a spouse of a mentally ill person, the lesson of all this is: don’t let your spouse’s illness stand in the way of a move to a better home and a better life. However, be very aware that your spouse has many fears that must be wrestled with and overcome. If not, there will either be disappointment or unhappiness in your marital future. Take whatever time is needed to address each one of your spouse’s fears. Encourage them to talk to you about what frightens them, then plan around it. I like to think that the difference between a fulfilled dream and an inescapable nightmare is planning.

Next time: Moving with Mental Illness: Part 2 – Managing the overwhelmed.

Bittersweet: Married to Mental Illness – BUY THE BOOK

Adam.

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