Mental health update: Pretty awesome

This might be long, so I’m going to put it under the cut. Not because I’m ashamed of my particular brand of crazy, but, you know, just in case you only give a shit about makeup or stuff that doesn’t involve me navel-gazing and whatnot.

So therapy this morning consisted mainly of discussing my plan to take better care of my mental and emotional well-being. I have some strong perfectionist tendencies, which just feeds into my anxiety issues, and means I’m really hard on myself and have difficulty giving myself credit for stuff, so my therapist pretty frequently acts as my cheerleader and points out how well I’m doing, or how much progress I’m making. Today, it was getting me to admit that I’ve actually done (or at least figured out) quite a bit in the last week to start taking better care of myself. So, here’s the game plan. It’s just for starters – it might turn out to be more than I can handle, or less than I need, in which case I’ll try to be non-judgemental of myself (for not getting it right), and adjust as needed. And it’s largely a combination of regular meditation and more socializing.

So, Wednesday nights for the next several weeks, I’ve got my meditation class. I kind of already know how to meditate, but I’ve been slack about keeping to a regular practice lately, so I want something more structured. The class doesn’t exactly have homework, but I’ll be assured of meditating at least once a week, and most likely more often than that, since it’s easier for me to get myself to practice shit at home regularly if I have a class to go to. And even though meditating is a pretty solitary thing, we have discussion in the class, so it’s a group activity, which is good for me. Insight meditation (I’ve also heard it called “mindfulness meditation” and “breath awareness”) is a *really* good tool for coping with anxiety and lessening its hold on your life. It trains your brain to focus on one thing (your breath, or some other focus later) and to stop running around like it’s on a hamster wheel, worrying, worrying, worrying, and taking you with it. Meditation helps you learn to live in the moment and be present, which is a great tool for dealing with anxiety. I would guess meditation is good for tons of stuff, but my firsthand experience is with it helping my anxiety. And I see immediate results, even if I’m starting again after a long hiatus, and can’t sit for very long, or can’t keep my mind from running away from me and finding shit to obsess about: even just sitting for a short while makes me feel physically refreshed. The center that offers the class follows the Shambhala tradition. I’m reading Turning the Mind into an Ally, and like what I’ve read so far. My therapist seems to be inclined more towards the Theravada school – but the great thing about mindfulness is that you don’t have to follow the philosophy or dogma or whatever trappings to practice mindfulness and benefit from it. And the center lets anyone meditate at their open houses, so if I ultimately decide to follow a different path, or no path at all, not a big deal. So that’s really nice, and not a potential source of pressure or worry.

The original plan – for other social activities – was to finish the current session of bellydance class on Monday nights, and then switch to a class another day of the week. This would free up my Monday nights, so that I could attend the uke jams held at High Strung. These are *fantastic*. I’ve been wanting to “get serious” about learning to play the uke, and the uke jam is a really low-pressure, friendly, group environment, that would help me learn and let me have fun playing with other ukelele enthusiasts, and encourage me to keep up a regular practice at home. And it really is low-pressure for me because the group setting means if I can’t keep up with a certain song (can’t figure out the chord fingering fast enough, can’t get the strumming pattern just right, whatever), I’m not worried that everyone else can hear that I’m fucking up or not playing at all. It’s not like I’m playing a uke solo where everyone would know if I stopped playing for a minute. So I love the uke jam, and am definitely looking forward to attending it regularly. But that’s going to be postponed for another month-ish because…

I snagged a spot in the next round of Monday night bellydance classes, in the earlier class (which also keeps me from being able to make the uke jam) that is learning a choreography to perform at Haflaween!!! It’s just too fun an opportunity – and too good an opportunity for combating my anxiety – to pass up. I fucking LOVE Haflaween like you don’t even know. I have huge performance anxiety issues – performing in front of people? UGH. I loathe it. I get sick to my stomach, even when the audience is small and entirely made up of friends. But I enjoy bellydance so much that I will actually get my ass up there and perform in front of people, AND have a good time. That’s a big deal. And I’m extra psyched about getting to perform at Haflaween – I’m actually looking forward to it, which is a huge deal for me. Bellydance is also good for my anxiety in a ton of other ways. Exercise is another good way of reducing anxiety – probably endorphins, and also just overall stress reduction. It helps you sleep better, which also decreases stress, and helps you cope better with any stress that’s still kicking around. And then I personally have performance anxiety, confidence issues, body image issues, and that whole “blood/vein/insides” thing – and they all feed on each other, so that’s even more awesome. Bellydancing has helped me work through all of those quite a bit. It’s made me more confident, more comfortable with my body as it is, body-image-wise. It’s helped me deal with performance anxiety, specifically with learning to acknowledge that anxiety and then NOT let it take over and paralyze me or keep me from doing something – the improv that I’m still not totally comfortable with is actually SUPER for learning to cope with performance anxiety, so that’s why I keep taking improv classes, even though part of me is like, “Improv? But then I’ll have to LEAD sometimes! Oh noes!” (Although I AM super glad that the Haflaween performance isn’t improv. I’m not ready for that level just yet.) And then bellydance has helped with the blood/vein/insides issue because it’s just given me a better connection to my own body and being *in* it – when I’m dancing, I consistently feel happy and positive and, most relevant for that issue, I feel like my body is okay. I’m not talking about body image, even though that is another issue for me, but that I tend to catastrophize stuff that happens, and sometimes have a deep discomfort bordering on disgust when it comes to visceral body stuff. It can get pretty heavy, being grossed out by something that is fundamentally me, that I can’t ever get away from. If I’m creeped out in the car, I can pull over and get out. If I’m creeped out by my body, I’m pretty fucking miserable, and it used to be the best I could hope for was to take something that would make me pass the fuck out, because even if I closed my eyes and didn’t *look* at the veins on my thighs (for instance), or avoided mirrors so I wouldn’t see the veins on my clavicle and shoulders, I would still know they were there and see them in my head and just obsess about it, and get more panicked because I couldn’t get away from it. Definitely one of the worst of the issues I have to cope with, I would say. And bellydance has helped that so much, while I’m dancing, but the effects also last afterwards. It’s like meditation: some immediate payoff, but also a gradually increasing, longer lasting, general day-to-day benefit the longer I practice regularly. And that’s my paean to bellydance. Long, but heartfelt.

So then I’ve got uke jam to look forward to, after Haflaween. And then I don’t have a specific night a week (not yet, anyway) for this, but I need to hang out with friends more often, go to stuff like Queeraoke more often. I like to grumble and tell Greg I hate being sociable (in my best Madame Mim voice), but really? If I can just get over my-damn-self and get myself to go? I have a fucking BLAST. I love my friends, and I love getting to see them, and hang out, and I realized today that it just made me super, super happy. I was so happy this morning, it was almost manically happy, even though I was tired as shit, and largely because I went to karaoke and got to hang out with friends. I think at this point, it’s so early in the meditation class that it might be helping me be calmer, but that the overwhelmingly primary source of today’s joy and…shit, it sounds hippy-dippy but just my sense of things being basically good and right in the world and in my life – that’s all down to having so much fun with people last night. It’s not a sense that I’ve gotten to experience a lot in the past, so even though I’m introverted, and even though I have performance anxiety, and even though I have this nutty voice in my head trying to keep me from risking whatever it is that I’m worrying about risking when I (gasp!) go out in public, I think I have to do this socializing thing more often. I think I’ve gotten a glimpse of why extroverts are extroverts. I get it now.

And my therapist mentioned this this morning, but it just finally really gelled for me, really made sense on a bone deep level, finally!, that it’s important to take care of myself and nurture my interests *outside* of my relationship with Greg, because then I *have stuff* to bring back and share with Greg. Because, aside from being generally fun in a relationship, sharing experiences is what nourishes that relationship. But I can’t share experiences if I’m not having experiences to share, or if I’m only doing stuff with Greg. Because then it gets a little…discursive? It’s not the same capacity for sharing, because we did it together, so he already knows about it? I mean, not that that discounts it, or makes it boring, but…yeah, kind of. It’s not so much sharing as rehashing everything. And my mind already has a tendency to ruminate and replay shit over and over and over and obsess and analyze it, and break down shit, and just over-examine shit. I complicate things that don’t need complicating, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. I just need to step back, and *enjoy* shit, which I can’t do when I’m ruminating. (Which is a damn good word for it, because it calls to mind a cow chewing it’s cud, which 1-is exactly what I’m doing, and 2-it’s totally gross and so appropriate for a bad mental habit that just ultimately makes me suffer.)

So, yeah, just being more open to hanging out with my friends, even if Greg can’t make it. Acting like, you know, an actual *individual* and not just an insecure extra appendage of Greg’s. Basically. I’m getting kind of sick of taking myself so seriously, so let’s wrap this shit up. Meditation classes for sure, regular daily sitting, maybe also group meditation at the open houses; bellydance, particularly gearing up for the Haflaween performance (which is so awesome, and I will be on the Haflaween dvd that I’m getting, how exciting is that! and it might also be posted on youtube so I could post it here for y’all to see that I do, actually, you know, do the shit I barf on here about); uke jam soon; and more hanging out with friends. I had also been feeling pretty down because I was focusing all my “hanging out” energy on a handful of friends, and some of them have babies now, and some of them are hard to get up with, and I was just feeling pessimistic about having to meet new people and make new friends, but if I didn’t… And I realized that I actually have a ton of nice, friendly people with similar interests, so plenty of new friend possibilities. And for once, instead of being overwhelmed by having to meet new people and navigate all that social shit, I’m actually excited by the prospect. That is a ginormous deal for me, and a fantastic turn of events. I was used to “hating being sociable,” but it turns out my therapist was totally right, and that doing more of something I “hated” would be exactly what I needed, that countered so many of my issues, individually and taken together.

And THANK YOU for reading. Really. It feels good to get this shit out, think through some things, reinforce shit that’s already occurred to me (or been pointed out to me!) but doesn’t completely resonate yet. And y’all have been incredibly supportive, and that’s been a huge help, too. If I’m going to be really honest about my feelings (and I totally just said that in my head as a sarcastic “my fee-wings” because ugh feelings!), knowing that there are awesome people out there rooting for me, and commiserating, and grappling with their own shit – it’s totally helped me feel more brave and confident about interacting with people face-to-face. So thank you! And I fervently hope that you also get an awesome day like I had today. Even if I wake up tomorrow and feel anxious and shit, today was fucking awesome, and today things just made sense, and I’ll have that to help me get through the not-so-awesome days. So I wish that for you, too. Actually, I wish that we both have nothing but awesome days, but at the bare minimum it seems fair to ask the universe to give us a great day every once in a while if not, you know, *every* day. I’m rooting for y’all, too! And now I am totally hippy-dippy’ed out. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go make fun of myself for talking about my feewings in gory detail on the interwubz, and pretend I’m not the big softie that I actually am. You know.

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