Living with mental illnesses, I often lose sight of what’s realistic—whether it’s expectations for myself, or for the world around me. I tend to live in a dream world — or, rather, nightmare world — out of touch with reality.
I’m really good at catastrophizing, otherwise known as thinking of all the possible worst case scenarios. When I hear about someone who has a disease or illness I’m not familiar with, I’m temporarily convinced that I, too, have that illness until someone is able to snap me out of it. (For example, I was recently concerned that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, until my psychiatrist convinced me otherwise). And WebMD is a minefield for me. I just…cannot…even…go there anymore.
It’s not just medical issues, but other disasters that take up too much of my brain space, as well. My mind gets preoccupied worrying about earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., or personal disasters like losing my job, my home, or the people I love. Or there’s the PTSD that takes up another big chunk of my brain space — flashbacks to past trauma and unwanted thoughts pop up in my head all the time.
It’s exhausting living like this — always afraid of what might happen, and being bombarded by thoughts of negative events from the past. The easy, pacifying solution is, “just focus on the positive things in life,” as if it is even that simple. And — spoiler alert — no, it is not that simple.
In order to stay out of “nightmare world” and stay in touch with reality, my self-care regimen is much more nuanced. I have to work on staying present and “grounded,” in the here and now (which I’ve talked about in a previous post). I’m also working on “resource development” with my therapist, which involves focusing on a happy place from a happy memory which I can pull up and think about, when needed. And, I’m currently working with my therapist to use a type of treatment called “EMDR” or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, which is supposed to be particularly effective in treating trauma and PTSD.
It takes all of these things, plus keeping up with my basics, to keep my brain grounded in reality. It’s never as easy as “staying positive”, because that’s not my brain’s default. I have to train it to be positive, to be in reality, because its default is to tip toward the darkness. I wish reality came more easily to me, but it’s something I have to work towards. Right now, I’m swimming through the murk of the nightmarish and catastrophic, just to find those few rays of light that bring me back to reality.
And now, here's the song of the week (a bonus, if you read yesterday's post)...