Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Day in the Life: A Mental Health Care Regimen


"I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by,
if it takes a life time"

Jason Isbell
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The Reverend (my husbutch, spouse, partner, best friend) regularly comments how I have the most intentional mental health regimen and personal boundaries she knows. Other people have also asked me to explain what those look like. To give a brief example, I have included a normal (or rather ideal) schedule of my work week, Monday-Friday, when I am home. When I am away from home, my schedule varies with more time given to things like writing, teaching, or networking in place of time with the family. But when I am away, these times for connection often still occur through Skype, FaceTime, and phone calls. I have also included some thoughts about my personal boundaries, in regards to focus, time, space, and energy.

My generally approach to mental health puts an emphasis on the domestic over the medical. I make time for cooking food that makes my body feel good, exercising, resting, praying, and connecting with my family. On the face of it, these things may not seem very exceptional. They may seem downright conventional or cliche. But I've found that most people don't spend the time or aren't allowed to spend the time on such cliche things like going for a daily jog or wrestling with an eight-year old. I get into periods when I am working so hard that these boundaries and routines are abandoned in favor of getting things done. But my mental and physical health tends to suffer almost immediately. By years of managing myself and my health, I have learned how much I really do need to maintain certain practices and boundaries to be more effective, more charitable in my disposition, and more joyful.

It is worth stating that these are things that work for me. I share them because I was asked. Also it was a bit fun to reflect and record them. They are descriptive of what I do for reasons that make sense to and for me, I do not offer them to be prescriptive for anyone else. Opening up up a window into a day in my life is an act that makes me vulnerable to criticism. What I do may not work or make sense to you. I eat meat. Many many people I respect and love do not eat meat. I don't drink alcohol (or very rarely). Many many people I respect and love to drink lots of yummy things. I jog. Many many people I respect and love don't or can't jog regularly. I pray. Many many people I respect and love don't pray or pray differently. Likewise, my boundaries make sense for how my mind and body work as well as how society tends to engage me. For others, my boundaries may seem insufficient or too limiting. In the end, I share this because I believe that honestly and openly being me will help others to honestly and openly be them. There might be some things here that inspire you and they might prompt you to realize or share some of the helpful things you do. In the ongoing conversation around mental health, let's be charitable and tender with one another! Thank you for reading.


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Normal (Ideal) Schedule
Monday-Friday


5:45 AM - Wake Up. Drive oldest child to bus stop at library.

    • Husbutch and I will take turns waking up or sleeping.

8:15 AM - Walk youngest child to bus stop at street corner.

    • Husbutch and I will take turns.

9:00 AM - Cook and eat breakfast 

    • Protein and peppers. I tend to avoid carbs for reasons of health and personal taste. Over easy eggs or occasionally sausage with various vegetables, especially poblano peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, celery, carrots.
    • Recommended spice: salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, turmeric.

10:00 AM - Work
    • Write, read, lesson plan, respond to e-mails, grade.
    • Take breaks every 20-30 minutes to clean or organize.

12:00 PM - Pray
    • Daily Mass at a progressive Catholic Church on Tuesday and/or Thursday
    • Book of Hours, especially during Lent, Advent, Pentecost, Christmas, and Easter.
    • Going for a walk is a good informal alternative.

12:30 PM - Eat Lunch
    • At home: protein and salad. I prefer arugula and kale. Spinach is nice. Olive oil with balsamic vinegar, and salt to dress. Nuts and dried fruit if available. Cut onion. If meat was absent or light for breakfast, will prepare chicken or small lean steak.
    • Chicken recommended spice: turmeric, non-smoked paprika, granulized onion, granulized garlic. Serve with fruity and spicy hot sauce on the side.
    • Steak recommended spice: cumin, salt, black pepper, chili powder, diced onion. Serve with earthy and mid-range hot sauce on the side.
    • Left-overs from previous night's dinner are common replacements.
    • Sushi on Wednesday for Lunch Special Discount.
    • Polish Food on Friday with Husbutch.
    • Watch cooking show or talk show while eating.

1:00 PM - Work
    • Write (or revise morning writing), read, lesson plan (different class), respond to e-mails, grade (different class).
    • Try to shift to different form of work from the morning if possible.
    • Take breaks every 20-30 minutes to clean or organize.

3:00 PM - Jog
    • On high work days: listen to music. Allows for relaxation and creativity.
    • On low work days: listen to audiobook.

3:45 PM - Shower
    • Kids will arrive home from school during this time.

4:00 PM - Spend time with Kids
    • Kids will need about 30 min down time after school.
    • N. Bahr will want physical games. Tuesday and Thursday are Karate.
    • C. Bahr will want pop culture or art project engagement.

6:00 PM - Cook dinner
    • Kids will want carbs. Rice with beans or pasta.
    • Husbutch will want protein with no carbs. Dry rubbed chicken drum sticks, steak with minimal seasoning, or chili.
    • Include vegetables in creative forms. Family favorite is curried peas.
    • Cook larger amount if Uncle Mike will also join meal.
    • Light work while cooking: editing, reviewing work, reading posts or e-mails. Nothing that requires very much attention or else burned food will occur. 

7:00 PM - Eat Dinner
    • Bless food. Husbutch does it best but kids do it the most adorably.
    • Do "best parts of the day" with everyone present.
    • If no other adults are present, kids will ask me to watch a show for the later part of dinner. An episodes in our ongoing Power Rangers run is generally chosen.

8:00 PM - 9:00 PM - Bed Time
    • N. Bahr (the youngest) has an earlier bedtime and takes longer to get ready.
    • C. Bahr (the oldest) has a later bedtime and is quicker getting ready.
    • Read a book to the children. Selections include: Mama Gabby re-tells medieval literature with a queer feminist twist, Being Jazz, This Book is Gay, Animorphs, Twilight Saga, Wonder, Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
    • Tell kids how much we love them.
    • Answer N. Bahr's late night musings about life, the universe, and everything.

9:00 - 10:00 PM - Work (Finish Up)
    • Review and revise writing, don't write anything new. Read light and short material. Don't grade at this point of the day. Avoid sending e-mails unless urgent.

10:00 PM - Midnight - Time with Spouse
    • Husbutch is usually home from meetings, work, or other activities at this point.
    • Husbutch will want to watch action or drama. Watch this earliest because otherwise they will pass out and I will be left unable to sleep.
    • I will recommend a comedy. Watching this later will often involve husbutch passing out midway and me laughing myself into rest.


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Boundaries


Focus
  • Work: When I sit down for a project, I devote a massive amount of attention and multiple levels of consciousness to it. On lower level tasks, keeping several tasks going at once will keep something small from becoming more complex than it needs to be. On higher level tasks, devote time and energy specifically for working on the one project to allow for some likely fixation. This fixation will take the form of endless revisions or alternative approaches. 
  • Family: I tend towards OCD and my family tends towards ADD. I will want to stay on a topic or project until it is complete, while my family will want to run multiple projects at the same time which often results in incomplete tasks. Breaking up family activities into small chunks allows for a sense of completion amidst the inevitable change in the weather of interest.
  • Friends: everyone has different needs and energies during social engagements. Being able to be intentional both about the focus I give and when it is time to change the subject or walk away will often result in better quality attention and less burnout. Often, when my husbutch is applauding me for taking care of my mental health is it because of witnessing my ability to limit engagement or to tactfully disengage from social situations in which I have hit my limit or which are taxing my energy and focus at an unsustainable rate. I am a believer in giving enough energy to people but not more than I know I can healthfully give.

Time

  • More time is better. Rushing results in poorer work and health. Crip time is slow in my viewpoint not because all forms of embodiment are necessarily sluggish but because allowing for many possible contingencies, revisions, and accessibility demands a greater amount of flex time. Rushing tends to result in less accessibility and care.
  • Be willing to say "no" or "not right now" to requests. If requests will create a time crunch that results in poorer quality work and working conditions then be willing to refuse them, withdraw from non-essential projects, or to push back deadlines.
  • Break up longer tasks into shorter goals. This will allow for flexibility in an uncertain future, making it easier to adjust as conditions, resources, interests, or feedback changes.
  • Rhythm is key. The body (including mind and emotions) is a living thing full of beats, compressions, releases, spikes, and dips. Being able to create an environment and workload that follows regular pacing helps to make harder tasks more manageable and boring tasks more interesting. 
Place
  • Work: because I tend to be more OCD and anxious, I need a work environment that has sufficient distractions and entertainment. This will interrupt the cycles of work or stress. Collectibles, non-work related books, pictures of family trips, and music or podcasts can help maintain a productive mood.
  • Outside of Work: because I am transgender, spaces can be dangerous for me. To create real and imagined safety, I tend to go to the same places on a regular basis. I eat at the restaurants, shop at the same stores, go for walks around the same routes. Over time, the population and staff of these areas get used to me. This acclimatization reduces conflict and may even result in unexpected allies, friends, or safe zones if danger arises.
  • Travel: because I cannot control a lot of the safety or comfort within places I travel, it is critical to find touchstones of both when I am away from home or work. People tend to stare or behave with increased rudeness towards me in places of public transit. I tend to prefer better ranked hotels because the staff is often better trained to deal with non-normative guests. Spending more for a taxi or hotel, and spending more time to walk or rest are worth while investments in places that can be dangerous and/or exhausting. Traveling with a friend or colleague can help with both safety and comfort.

Energy (Intellectual)
  • Don't feel like you need to give an opinion on everything. Thinking deeply and critically is work. Consider social media and small talk another form of work, so avoid the unnecessary or unproductive variety. Other people will often say something better or be the better person to say something. Know when to speak and when to sit back to instead support other voices.
  • The majority of the time, most people just want to feel like someone hears them. Giving affirmations that you are listening and that someones words are valuable is key. People too often do not state or affirm they heard statements because they seem obvious. Too often obvious solutions to problems are missed because people do not say or listen to them.

Energy (Emotional)
  • Listening to, being present to, or witnessing to human emotion is labor. Feeling things is like working a muscle. I wouldn't sprint for 20 minutes without slowing down or taking breaks to walk and stretch, likewise emotional labor should be balanced with time alone or alternated with other emotions. A well timed joke, a sobering comment, an intermission to discuss another topic are all effective at maintaining and enduring longer emotional labor.
  • Time alone nearby trusted people is key. People exhaust me and I find it difficult to not notice the million emotional, intellectual, physical, and social signals people send off. As such, a space where I don't see or hear the many subtle signals allows me to disconnect and recover. However, I do not like being isolated or totally alone. An office space or neighboring room in which I can settle will allow me to recenter myself while still being within reach.

Energy (Physical)
  • Too much energy will result in higher anxiety. Increasing the amount of exercise helps with this. Solitude will help burn off extra physical energy that results from excessive emotional or intellectual conflict. Ironically, fast paced music will help organize the extra energy by acknowledging the surge rather than trying to ignore or eschew it.
  • Too little energy will result in a more depressive and sluggish state. Eating better or more often and sleeping more will help. Be aware that sleep is an investment. More efficient work and socializing can be done with better rest. Overtired or slugging work or socializing will take longer and be less effective.
  • C. Bahr and husbutch prefers lower energy activities for longer periods.
  • N. Bahr prefers higher energy activities for shorter periods.

My Body
  • This is a whole post to itself, given how people can have varyingly healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards trans women's bodies.

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