This post was started a year ago, and was shelved when I got overwhelmed. I've since added some current insight. The shift from January 2020 to January 2021 will be marked - hopefully I don't confuse the shit out of you.
I jump from thought to thought like a flea jumps to a light. I've made it through the first couple weeks of Lifespan Integration. I am exhausted and a little sad. I'd like to be able to find the silver lining but I am too tired. So for now, I will just stay exhausted and a little sad. Future Me can take care of the optimism.
I don't want to get into too much detail here, as I have not been trained in the technique of Lifespan Integration and do not want to misinform anyone. Even if I just talked about my personal experience with it, the story would get a little long. The short of it is that I've created a list of memory cues. There are two per year from Year 0 - when I was born - to Year 27, which is concluding today. Some of these memories are good ones, like watching Amelie for the first time with Belly, or purchasing my business license. Others are not so good. My first session of Lifespan Integration was spent developing a baseline. This essentially meant that I focused on remaining grounded in the present moment while my therapist activated my memories in rapid succession. This got more difficult as the pace increased; I struggled not to get overwhelmed. We concluded with a short self-compassion meditation. I went home and slept for a few hours and went to work an overnight shift instead of a daytime one. Day two was spent working with one particular memory and integrating it. This meant holding a conversation with my past self, leaving the memory in the past and bringing my past self into the present moment. This was not my worst memory, but not a good one. The process was entirely guided, so even when I felt a little overwhelmed, the moment felt pretty contained. After we finished, I spent the day feeling pretty fuzzy-headed and emotional.
Before we started Lifespan Integration, I completed my Wellness Recovery Action Plan and also put it into my bullet journal. The multi-page spread is incredibly satisfying to look at. Having this plan is what allows me to go through these emotional sessions and still make it to work afterward. I find it especially hard to focus after my sessions, but I've activated a few of my wellness tools and am slowly accomplishing tasks. For example, after my second session, I planned to give myself extra time for breaks. I got myself a coffee. I texted my sister. I watched videos of Belly meowing and purring. I brought one of my favorite blankets for the day. These things all allow me to feel better. I wanted to talk about what that means, though. "Feeling better" seems to get construed as "feeling 100%," both in my mind and in others expectations. I wanted to dive into that a bit. This is a self-reminder that at no point can I expect perfection. While I have these wellness tools at hand, there is no guarantee that any number of them can turn a low mood into a positive one. And that is okay! Life comes with happy and sad rolled into the dough. I can't very well add more happy and expect the flavor of sad to disappear entirely. Sometimes, the happy will be enough to mask the bitter. Sometimes, not. Both experiences are valid. Sometimes, I'm going to use ten different wellness tools and that will overwhelm any sad. Other times, I'm going to use fifteen wellness tools and still barely make it out of bed. Ad some days, I may not even make it that far. The whole point of my WRAP is to be conscientious of what state I am in, and based on what state I'm in, I can take specific actions to return myself to wellness on my own recognizance. Knowing the signs of my life breaking down is a helpful tool in tracing my steps backward and healing the cause of my distress. I feel as though I need to continue to remind people that I am still post-crisis. I'm not entirely returned to wellness. You could give an aspirin the headache of its life. Today is my birthday. My time of birth was 3:23 am, so I don't stay up every year for it. This year, I am. It's the New Moon in Pisces - my Sun sign - and Mercury is in retrograde. It's the between-season liminal space of a mild Oregon winter and what I hope to be an incredibly rainy Oregon spring; the breathing space between moon phases; the last hour of my 27th year. Things have been going sideways in the last week. My car is broken down, my work hours got drastically cut. It's officially week 8 of yet another difficult term. And this blog draft has been sitting for a few weeks, getting minor things added as I noticed recurrent themes. Today is my birthday, and in that lovely transition period from 27 to 28, I want to reflect and plan. Pisces Suns are emotional, perceptive, and creative. New Moon is a time of beginnings. My February tarot pull was the 2 of Wands, which guided me to focus on my future and establishing a clear plan before proceeding. It's an auspicious time for me to rest and turn inward, to spend some time reflecting; it is also an excellent time for me to take a risk, share a dream, and accept imperfections in others and myself as their own kind of perfection. So... My future. What is it? What do I want? The last few years have been consumed by academia. I want to pause between my BS and MA. I originally wanted to push through until my MA was in my hands, but I'm quite tired. When I realized I should take a break, the logical place was between my BS and MA. I decided I'd focus on my family and finances, and then return to college after my respite. I think now that my graduation is so close, it would behoove me to flesh that plan out. And considering my current journey in therapy, it seems an adjustment to my priorities will be in order. I want to heal. This means I need to come first on my list of priorities. I want to focus on my family, but this alone is a vague statement. What I mean specifically is twofold: I want to spend more time with my immediate relatives and inner circle of friends, and I want to grow my own family with Aaron. I think both of these goals can sit side by side as priority two. Lastly, I want to heal my finances. I have been learning about my ADHD and how it affects my finances, and it is time to put that new knowledge to use. This is priority three. There are a million other things I want to focus on. It's difficult for me to select priorities and to maintain my focus on a limited number of goals. But I have been doing a lot of learning. I will be 28 in seven minutes., and everything I have learned from this past year boils down to this: I achieve what I commit to. And this next year, I need to commit to myself before anyone and anything else. Watering plastic plants in the hope that they'll grow. In this next year, committing to my priorities will allow me to learn and bolster my resiliency in the four categories I've identified as weak. By prioritizing myself, I am committing to my physical well-being. By prioritizing my family, I am committing to build my personal community and connect to my personal culture. By prioritizing my finances, I am committing to implementing and maintaining a healthy relationship with money. In addition to widening the breadth of my resiliency, my commitments will also allow me to deepen my self-understanding. I am building the beginning of these commitments by continuing Lifespan Integration. The lessons I learn from the past Selves I integrate into Me will be what guide my journey through this next year. They say the best memories are the ones that we forget. I'm officially 28. My birthday tarot pull was the reverse Page of Swords, which leapt from the deck as I shuffled by my slowly-growing collection of plants on the dining room table. Amidst the green of my established plants and the brown of newly-planted seeds, my birth time ticked past and my tarot urgently announced that I express a truth... ...And that is where Past Me became so overwhelmed, I shelved my entire blog. The pandemic started. I lost one job. I didn't graduate on time. I protested in my neighborhood. My other job changed course. And while these big events were happening, I kept trudging along on my plan to heal, to stabilize, to be resilient.
At the beginning of this draft, Past Me decided to just leave the optimism to Future Me. The truth that Past Me was so hung up on is carried in these lyrics: Maybe it's the crazy that I'd miss. It won't get better than this. I have been mentally ill for a long time. I have been diagnosed with disorders that never get cured, only managed. Past Me was sitting here, in front of my blog draft, two weeks into doing the incredibly hard work of breaking the bonds of past memories to forge a new, complete self -and all she could see coming down the pipeline was more of the same. What else had I known? Psychologist Carol Dweck has done some lovely work on what she calls "The Power of Yet." In a TEDxTalk, Dweck refers to a school in Chicago that would issue a grade of Not Yet to students instead of an F. This approach perfectly exemplifies a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset.
Where someone with a fixed mindset believes their abilities are innate, someone with a growth mindset sees their abilities as something to be built. A fixed mindset is threatened by the success of others, because other people succeeding means you are failing. A growth mindset finds inspiration in the success of others, accepts challenges, and perseveres in the face of failures. While a fixed mindset carries the desire to look smart, the growth mindset desires to learn. Dweck studied the way kids would respond to challenges. She assigned a group of 10 year-olds problems that were a little too tough for their age group. Some of the students responded really positively, stating that they liked a challenge. Other students were devastated, feeling like they had been tested for intelligence and been found lacking. I like the way Dweck puts it: Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now. I have to say, I have a history of having a pretty fixed mindset. That phrasing, "the tyranny of now," hits hard for me. When faced with difficulty, I have often run from the challenge - because if I was to fail the challenge, then I wasn't good enough. It was easier to avoid the challenge than to suffer a defeat. And that is precisely where my past self was coming from - this idea that being challenged and experiencing failure would make me a failure, expose me as a fraudulent adult, and somehow be irrecoverable. If I tried to be better, and didn't make it, then I would *know* I would never be better. Over the last year, I've learned to shift into a growth mindset. I'm not great at it. I have a lot of ingrained habits and fall into fixed thought patterns by default. Part of my Lifespan Integration work meant learning to confront painful versions of myself and accept them, not as failures, but as versions of myself. To my surprise, I continued to be given the opportunity to try again. If I failed to learn a lesson at age 16, I was given the opportunity to learn it again. My body was holding onto the Not Yet as hard as it could, even if my mind expected me to know Now.
I was so worried that I would miss being "crazy" or that I wouldn't ever achieve "better." What I know now is that I was just getting a grade of Not Yet. And yeah, Future Me can take care of the optimism. Because guess what? Better isn't a place you reach and then never leave. Better isn't perfection. Better is just trying again. I like the way your brain works, I like the way you try To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired I like the way you turn me inside and out I like the way you turn It's almost a year later. I'm now slightly more than a month away from my 29th birthday. There are some parallels between then and now, in the way the edge of a turning wheel will eventually kiss the ground again. I'm experiencing stability - and doing so without the fear of being challenged. Challenges happen. They're part of life. It is unreasonable to expect myself to never be unstable again. It's far, far easier to just hang onto the power of yet.