Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On the Move

I’ve been thinking this month about resolutions and why we make them. Depending on the year, I can fall on either side of the argument about whether to make New Year’s Resolutions or not. But it’s really not about “I’m going to lose 10 pounds.” It’s really about hope, and that’s something we all need.

Life with mental illness can often be devoid of the markers other people use to gauge their progress. If you can’t work, for instance, there is none of the built-in feeling of “I’m finished” at the end of the day, no projects you’ve completed, no deadlines met, and no raises or promotions. Sometimes bare survival can get very hard indeed, and we feel that is all we can expect out of life.

But survival for survival’s sake is not enough for human beings. Resolutions speak to the human need to say, “I’ve decided I want things to change, and I’m going to MAKE them change.”  When you are prone to altered states, it can seem that everything is out of your control. It is especially important for people in our position to have reachable goals and possible dreams. As day by day goes by in your funky supported housing and nothing gets better or changes, it is easy to stop dreaming. This way lies apathy and death. Not having a dream is a most pernicious form of suicide. I read somewhere that when you are killing time, you die a little yourself in the process. We need hope.  As Abraham Cowley once wrote, “Hope! of all ills that men endure, the only cheap and universal cure.”

It may be useless and discouraging to wish for A Cure. It may even be too much, at any given time, to say, “I’m going to lose the 60 pounds my medicine put on me.” But you could start with a broader dream, such as, “I’m going to have better health,” and then think up little reachable steps, such as taking a multivitamin every morning. Then you can proceed through other small steps, such as eating a salad twice a week, or taking a regular walk, and as you achieve these things you gain confidence. One day, eventually, you will be consulting your doctor about just how few calories you need to keep the pounds off, and designing a diet for yourself.

By the way, if your dream is eventually supporting yourself again, I recommend you look up the International Clubhouse (www.iccd.org). If there is a Clubhouse within reach, this is an excellent place to take part in a work-ordered day, train for supported positions in the community, and eventually re-enter the work force. Their statistics on the numbers of members who have succeeded in this process are impressive and encouraging.

The important thing is that we each have a dream that is meaningful to us, and not outside the bounds of possibility. Perhaps your dream will be a variation of your original life goal before receiving your diagnosis. And then be sure to support that dream, at whatever speed works for you, with little bitty steps in the direction you want. They can be tiny and infrequent steps, and it is not abnormal to fall backwards sometimes and have to start over. As long as we feel we are moving. I would personally recommend 2 or 3 goals, so that when one is not panning out you can at least look to some other goal for your satisfaction. For example, I haven’t written even one chapter of a novel this year, but I did lose a bunch of weight. So when my inner critic starts carping at me, I have something to shut it up.

Of course, manic people like me may actually make too many resolutions (or too big), and suffer collapse and burn out. When I realized this year that my projected resolutions numbered FIFTEEN, I decided to call it off.  You don't always have to have a specific resolution. You just have to want to go somewhere, take one step, and believe that the next step is possible.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Her newest project is a guided meditation CD, “Island Journey,” produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes, Amazon, and many other venues.Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.