Monday, February 12, 2018

Step Two: My Planner

As mentioned in the previous post, recently I caught myself sinking back into depression. I took Step One to get back on track, and now...

Step Two: 


I first encountered personal planners back in 1990. When placing an office supply order at work, one of my coworkers requested DayTimer refills, and I thought, "What the hell is 'day...timer'?". Now mind you, I'd always been the type who poured over office supply catalogs like porn, but I'd never seen a planner quite like this before. This was no ordinary calendar. This was a caramel-colored leather, pocket-sized, hyper-organized success Grail!

Since then, technology may have made it infinitely easier to reconnect with your 3rd grade crush, share ideas around the world, and overthrow a small nation, but for me, and millions of others, paper-based planning beats hi-tech any day! In fact, since partial hospitalization (PHP) five years ago, paper planning has not only remained my go-to for everyday time and life management (i.e., calendar, to do list, contacts, and key info), but has evolved into a valuable tool for maintaining mental health and addiction recovery.


To maintain mental and physical wellness, I use my planner to:
  • List medications (dose, frequency, etc.);
  • Track physical activity/exercise (e.g., steps walked each day, exercise log);
  • Track daily water consumption;
  • Meal plan;
  • Maintain a food log; and,
  • Log doctor visits/results, lab work, vaccines, etc.
In addition, I now carry a copy of my "KWRAP"* in my planner for easy reference. 

Created by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a tool to which I was first introduced in PHP. They gave us handouts to work on in group, but I did mine on the computer at home - with movie clips. (See below. Obviously the meds were kicking in at that point!)


CBT is a tool for "modifying dysfunctional thinking and behavior"; and my planner has become a tool for CBT. My planner is a source of affirmations, visualizations, motivational quotes, gratitude lists, and other exercises designed to squash ANTs** and facilitate cognitive restructuring.


No, it is not imperative for staying on top of things, but pictures, stickers, and other colorful accents just plain pick me the hell up! The very act of doodling and adding Washi tape, scrapbook paper, and motivational quote stickers to a planner page relaxes me, much the way adult coloring books relieve stress for others.  

My raison d'être


Needless to say, many of us coping with chronic mental illness and/or addiction struggle heavily with money management. In fact, the symptoms of our illnesses not only make managing finances difficult, but likely are the very things that dug us into our pecuniary pits in the first place. 

Fortunately, with the help of family, friends, and professionals, and a wealth of resources available in books and online now, we can begin moving forward in this area of our lives too. I've dedicated an entire section of my planner to this topic - a one-stop place for planning, tracking, and learning.  


*If WRAP is pronounced, /rap/, then KWRAP is pronounced, well.../CRAP/. {Even cocooned in my bed by the Vortex, I still had a sense of humour at the time.}
**A.N.T.s - Automatic Negative Thoughts - coined by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Step One

Folks, I have 10, count em...T E N! drafts written in the last two months just sitting there on my Blogger home-page-inbox-thingie awaiting final edits before posting. Well, this post is  going up as is - written off the cuff, because blogging is urgently needed self-care right now.

I'm in a bad place right now - not Vortex-level-bad, but getting precariously close to the edge. The warning signs:

  • I'm getting more and more anxious and irritable (for no reason);
  • I'm continuously scanning my body for symptoms of my untimely demise; 
  • I'm überly {new word?} self-critical; and,
  • "Automatic negative thoughts" pop out of nowhere. 

Truth be told, I've been a little whole-lot sloppy in recovery for some time now and it's catching up with me. I got complacent. Though I've seen a psychiatrist regularly, I haven't been to a therapist in a couple of years now. 

Also, fall 2017 hit me harder than expected - not so much because of seasonal affective disorder, though. I just didn't realize how the first anniversary of my brothers dying and death would hit me like a ton of bricks...and...

I'm 51 now...

and then because of pharmacy refill-syncing issues and doctors office's holiday closures, I got waaaaay off schedule on my meds. In fact, I did what one should ABSOLUTELY NOT DO: I quit taking two of the three meds I take, because I got so behind on doses.


how the hell to get back on track?!

STEP ONE: This post

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

up for air

Photo by Simon_sees
Exactly one week before my 51st birthday, five days before I fly again (another blog post entirely!), and coming up next month, the one year anniversary of my brother's death.

I'm rapidly becoming depressed (and anxious about flying). I know what to do, just struggling with the ability to even do.

You see, it's not as easy as it should be - simply knuckle down, "put on [my] 'Big Girl' panties", and apply all the other wellness tools about which I preach here and teach my peers on the job. If it were that easy for me, consider it done!

Rather, it's a weight bearing down - an invisible suit of lead. Or a cage - a dark tunnel with only a lit match to guide me out.

At one family night, back when I was in addiction treatment, another group member's wife was on the verge of tears, asking her husband, "I don't understand - why can't you just stop? You see what it's doing to you and our family." 

He had no answer for her, but I chimed in:

It's like being at a pool and watching all the other swimmers dive in and successfully swim the length of the pool while holding their breath. It's your turn. You think, 'Piece a cake.' You dive in and only a few meters out, you need to breath. You keep on going, saying to yourself, 'Knuckle down. Just do it. Everyone else did...'; but with every stroke, the urge to breath is stronger and stronger until it's so overwhelming you come up for air. You pop up, and everyone's disappointed in you. You're disappointed in you. 

So you try again...and again...and again, and every time it's the same. In fact, the more you try, the shorter the distance before you need to breathe."  

And that's the way it is too with depression, although not so much an urge to do something, rather an inability to do the very thing(s) that will help.

The need to do something (addiction) or inability to do something (depression) is so ingrained in your wiring, it's almost fully unconscious. It's like the urgent drive to patch the hole with your finger before the dam bursts, or the instinct to seek cover from the hailing storm. You just do it, all the while maintaining the face of "normal" to the rest of the world. You mask you're illness until the disparity between your inside and the outside becomes too great and you explode or implode.

Often, the only way out, is to learn to breath with an instructor, and it can't be family. Most of the time, it can't even be friends. Sometimes the only way out is to leap into the arms of a professional and trust that they'll guide you eventually to the other side of the pool.

So, I guess I just solved my own dilemma. Calling my therapist today.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

{im}perfectly PINTERESTing

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life...have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."                                                    - Steve Jobs

I turned 50 last October, and as you know, shortly after, I lost my youngest brother to brain cancer. Like a carefree bird at full speed, I flew smack into the cold glass of reality - a window of hope having just slammed shut. No longer an esoteric thought, I finally saw and felt "Life's brief candle" flickering.

Over the decades, I've become complacent. It's easy to do, you know. So many of us let the passions and dreams of youth slip out of our fingers and sail away behind us. We settle down and settle in. We aspire to fit the mold of the perfect mother or father - the perfect bread winner, spouse, or lover. We deplete our resources and ourselves trying to meet up to standards set by the invisible "them".

In the last several years, the internet has become a powerful resource in my never-ending quest for perfection. Enter Pinterest: my internet porn and, at times, self-esteem leech.

Millions of "hacks" using baking soda, vinegar, and toothpaste for all kinds of household fixeroos. Pictures of pristine, cozy kitchens in white with turquoise tools and stainless appliances. Tutorials for sexy hair, age-reversing make-up, wardrobe tweaks, and exercise tips promising transformation from frowning frump to 21st Century, June Cleaver-Jane Mansfield Fox. A flicker of hope for the weary working woman or stay at home mom who tries to be everything to everyone, but ends up exhausted and worn.

Don't get me wrong, Pinterest's a wonderful, powerful tool. An endless depot of collective ideas and inspiration, it can help us make life easier, richer, and more fun. In the hands of an easily-depressed, attention-impaired, 24-hour-a-day-stimulus-seeking addict like me, though, it can have the reverse effect.

Contrary to popular belief (ha-ha)...I'm not perfect. While this fuels my initiative and inspires my goal-setting, it's also led to procrastination, and pushed me over the edge more than once into the Vortex. Take blogging, for instance. Even though I've been blogging for almost five years now, in the last two, I've poured over countless "Pins" listing tips for blogging success. Always afraid of failure, though, I've been waiting for the perfect time to dive back in - waiting to get the new blog website up and running and, well, perfect. Waiting to craft the perfect masthead and design, and to outline a precise map of topics before continuing where I left off.

Now on the cusp of...gulp...51, Life's brief candle may indeed be slowly waning, but damn it, I've decided I'm going to crackle, blaze, and roar before I'm through! I'm ditching the self-repression of Them-pleasing and freeing the bound and gagged, long-lost ME. I'm going to do what I love - get back to blogging, rekindle old fires, and explore much, much more! (It's not called Pink Hi-Top ADVENTURES for nothing, you know.)

Yes, the new website will come; and yes, I'll checkout Pinterest, etc. for creative and technical ideas to get there. In the meantime, however, I'm back and I'll give you the best I've got.


Reading back over this and other posts just now, I noticed something. When I have a problem or emotional crisis, and I blog about it, somewhere in the last two paragraphs I have an epiphany. My outlook does a 180, hope returns, and I'm charged enough to get back on the path.

ANTI-DEPRESSION TOOL: If your outlook is bleak right now, write it out, draw it out, GET IT OUT of your head and onto paper (or screen). 

[Now there's a reason to start blogging again...and, oh crap! I already said, "I'm back..." I better get out of this post and into a new one. NOW!]

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

dark and light

[From March somethingth, 2017]

It's been forever it seems since I last posted.

I can't write, and I'm worried that I've lost it - that I'll never be able to blog like I used to. Two years ago, I was often full of hope and optimism. Positive thoughts and words seem cheap - like glass
pawned off as diamond. I stand now in a 'fun' house hall of mirrors - my belief in a positive future: a bent and twisted reflection of shattered ideals.

As you may know, my brother Patrick passed away from a very rare form of brain cancer last fall - Thanksgiving week, actually. He was only 44. Though I've desperately wanted to, I haven't been able to muster up the fortitude to write a proper tribute to him yet. But it's coming...soon.

I know I don't corner the market on pain and grief, but I certainly don't handle it with grace. I'm slow at acceptance and quick to dissolve in my pain. I haven't been able to accept it. I don't want to accept it. I WON'T accept it!

Me & my little brothers: Karen, John, & Pat

...cause maybe if I do, I'll start to forget him. I don't EVER want to forget him; and if I have to self-flagellate to remember, so be it.

I never before realized just how much I love my siblings. Missing my little brother has been like losing a limb or an eye. It's been the perfect psychiatric storm: lifelong mental illness rams into grief - swirling, thrashing, and raging in a sea of mid-life hormones. Always a full vessel til now, my heart's empty  - ripped to shreds and swept away in a gulf of tears.

And looking inward, this is a striking reminder of the road's end - the path on which we all steadily tread. Death - the great equalizer. Granted, most of us probably won't die as young as Pat, but we're headed there nonetheless. And now I'm 50...


June 1, 2017

Since I wrote the above, I've been pulling myself up again...slooowly. Still mourning, still crying at least once a week, but moving forward. Time may heal all pain, but it will never fill the hole in my heart which I'll carry on my journey til I myself die. I'll never, ever forget him. Never stop talking to him, never stop sharing "Pat stories" with family and friends, and never stop looking for some sign in the clouds, on a street sign or bumper sticker, or in the random words of a stranger or colleague...some sign that he is in fact doing well and existing in Heaven or another alternate plain...some sign that one day I will...that I WILL get to see him again...some sign that he has not just evaporated into nothingness.

On the brighter side, in the darkest days of the holiday season, I landed the job of my dreams - at least for this next phase of my career. The focus of this job is providing peer support of and modeling wellness for those who are also mentally ill and/or addicted.

Wellness, in fact, is where I have always wanted to go with Pink Hi-Top Adventures in the long run. In fact, I'm working on a new blog page and format now.

In the meantime, I will continue to post here...until the ribbon cutting. ;)


P.S. - Okay, and yes, there is someTHING else that has contributed to my depression as well. Salt in the wound, if you will, coinciding with my brother's final days on Earth...but that is for another blog. Not another post, another BLOG entirely.

P.P.S. - If anyone knows how to create a blog on one's own URL or if you know of any good computery-designy-types or online services that can help set up an original blog and website, please let me know. :) 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Mourning

Karen (Me), John, and Pat
(Sorry John, had to post it. You're handsome.
And besides, you don't read my blog anyway!)

Happy Thanksgiving! 

There. I said it, albeit with gritted teeth. No, seriously. I do wish you a happy Thanksgiving, but it's a little hard today to be happy on mine.

Monday of this week, my brother (Pat, above) passed away from brain cancer. I will blog about this later. For today, I am going to trryyyy...try, try, try to be grateful. I know it's the right thing to do; and in trying to set a good example of mental wellness, I am going to force myself to do it.

I am grateful for:
  • My brothers: They are (yes, 'are') more than just brothers. They are my best friends! They are handsome, intelligent, witty, thoughtful, and unbelievably creative and talented! 
  • My parents: They loved us and worked very hard to provide us with food, clothing, health care, and shelter. On top of that, they nurtured our religious, spiritual, and moral growth; ensured we had the best education; broadened our life experience with travel across the US and in Europe; encouraged the development of our talents with sports, music, and other extracurricular activities and training; shared our cultural heritage (Irish American) and holiday traditions; and stressed the importance of family and friendship bonds and love.
  • My husband: (Whom Pat introduced me to in the first place.) He is a wonderful, caring, loving, intelligent, creative, talented, and incredibly handsome (HOT!) man, wonderful father, and my best, best friend!
  • My daughters: (One of whom wouldn't exist if it weren't for Pat introducing me to my husband.) They have both grown into beautiful, smart, witty, talented, creative, caring, kind, and loving young women.
  • My father- and mother-in-law: I am so, so, so lucky to have great in-laws! I just adore them! They are loving, comforting, generous, and fun to be around. I am also very proud of my father-in-law in particular {and YOU KNOW WHY!}
  • My sisters-in-law: Again, I am so damn lucky to have these gorgeous, kind, intelligent, and strong women in my life! I love and admire them. They set a great example for their children and my daughters. They inspire me to be a better woman myself!
  • My brothers-in-law: They are all strong, intelligent, incredibly handsome, and fun to be around!
  • My other relatives: I come from a wonderful family on both sides. Even though there is geographic distance between us, they are always close within my heart.
  • My "Royal" Friends: (Whom I met exclusively through Pat.) They are kind, caring, thoughtful, generous, talented, smart, and completely fun to be around. [You know who you are!!]
  • My Other Best Friends: They are also truly kind, caring, thoughtful, generous, talented, smart, and completely fun to be around.
  • My Pets - Shade, Bella, and Sunny: Here are some pics that make me happy right now.

  • LIFE: Even though there is sometimes suffering and pain, I am grateful...I am trying to be grateful, that is - that I am alive. That every day is a new day with new possibilities and hope. That I can see, hear, touch, and taste the physical world around me and if I'm quiet and still enough, can sense the world beyond.
What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Vortex Vent

"Shadows of Us", by Karen Clarke
[My brother and I.]

So I am NOT doing a very good job of staying out of the Vortex. I am not handling this very well at all. Who would?, I suppose.

Quite often, I am a two-year old in the body of a 50-year old. Occasionally, though, I am a little bit strong. I am typically at my best when I am with my brother actively doing something to help him, talking to him, and/or just sitting next to him. On the other hand, I am at my worst - as today - when I am back at my own house. I feel empty, helpless, and hopeless.

I really, really, really wanted to share with you tips on protecting one's mental health when dealing with serious illness, dying, death, and grief, but I've got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing to share from my own journey through this experience to inspire you and set a good example of self-care that helps you help others. I totally know it's wrong to say, but I don't really give a damn about my own mental or physical health at the moment.

I know what I should be doing, but I am simply unable [unwilling] to do it. I know well the metaphor of the importance of taking care of oneself in order to best help others - like a parent putting on their own oxygen mask before putting one on their child in an airplane emergency. I have loved tossing that one around at friends and family coping with caring for others, but now it feels trite.

Wait...Actually, now that I think about it, this blog post is a part of self care. Venting one's emotions, as painful as they are, is therapeutic. The other day, I was thinking about the myriad feelings and emotions I cycle through daily, and I wrote the poem below**. Writing that too was therapeutic. 

So I guess I do have a tip for you after all: write (or draw, etc.) your feelings and emotions - painful and dark as they may well be. Share them or not, just get them out of your head and onto a medium. It is a pressure release to prevent full throttle explosion as emotional pain and suffering continues to layer your heart.



Like a sculptor working stone, pain carves me from the inside out –




I am angry. I rage 

                        and lash out like a fork-tongued serpent, fangs bared at the world.

I cry torrents of tears,

and thrash about like a wounded shark. 

I weep and wail til my heart’s squeezed dry. 

I am hollow.

I am full.

I am strong.

I am weak.

I am pain.

I am numb.

I am loss.

I am love.

I am grief.