Do you feel you\’re getting off track?

Those of you who have been following my columns with NABBW may have noticed that my last new column was a few months back. Quite often my patients assume that because I am a therapist, I am immune to the ups and downs of life. They forget that I learned my professional skills in school and through years of practice, and that, underneath the professional veneer, I am the same vulnerable and sometimes off track human being that they are. In fact, most appreciate when I occasionally share my personal experiences (which I do only after I feel I have begun to resolve them).

I\’ve been off track these past months for many of the same reasons that others go off track…too many stressors piled on top of each other. It started back in December as I helped my daughter and son-in-law deal with the agonizing death of his father from lung cancer (just months after the two of them were married). Then on the heels of that came the death of my own father, my favorite aunt, and my darling sister-in-law…all within 6 weeks of each other. Trips back to the Midwest for my father\’s services stirred up all the old feelings around being from his “first” family and not considered a “real” family member. But blessings were found in a closer relationship with my two younger half-brothers. How great that we\’ve finally decided to drop the “half” bit!

Adding another layer was a job gone sour. I had taken a position as a contract specialist for my union last fall, thinking that having only two days in the clinic and the rest of my 40 hours at home working on a website for the union would be a relief. But it turned into a mish-mash of conflict and disappointment on all sides, not being able to do either job to my satisfaction (okay…breathe…Karen…you don\’t have to do everything perfectly!)

Can we think of it as just stepping off the sidewalk?

I realized about a month ago that I needed to heed my own advice. Getting off track is just like stepping off the sidewalk. You haven\’t fallen into a deep pit looking up at a pinpoint of sky. You\’ve just momentarily stepped off the smooth surface and onto the rougher gravel, or the squishy, soggy grass, or, at worst, are mired ankle deep in mud.

You just need to look down, locate that the sidewalk, that path of life that is healthier for you, yank those feet up one at a time, and step back onto it. This good advice comes from the 12-step programs of recovery, intended for those who have suffered a slip or relapse.

What does stepping back onto the sidewalk mean?

For me, stepping off means losing track of caring for myself…returning to compulsive eating and stopping exercise. So stepping back on involves going back to writing down my food plan for the day, getting the proper groceries into the house, throwing out the accumulation of junk or binge food, and being willing to go through about three to four days of withdrawal. I make sure I have enough to eat, that I don\’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired (this is the HALT saying, again from 12-step programs). It also means putting on the walking outfit and standing outside my front door. From there I am bound to take my walk. It means going through several weeks of feeling achy and exhausted on those walks until my stamina returns. Having a walking partner is a great help to me during this phase. Getting back to my women\’s workout place on a regular basis is my next step, although I have been about three times which is better than none.

Stepping back on also means focusing on the positive. Opening my journal and writing down the blessings in my life. Taking realistic steps to undo last fall\’s job decision so that it better fits me at this phase of life (nearing retirement). Listing the positive aspects of both current jobs and focusing away from the negative. After all, even the worst job decision can at least be a learning experience. Sharing my struggles with close friends and relatives, those who care about me…and following their advice. For me, this meant finding a couple of new activities that would peak my interest and divert me from disappointments. I discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute which offers challenging and interesting lectures and classes for older adults, just minutes from my home. I also signed up for new activities at my place of workshop—a social justice workshop and a personal retreat for women. And, of course, I made the effort to update my website for a very simple relaxation skill.

Do you start isolating? Force yourself to go back to your place of worship or take a class, go to a free concert, call or email that friend you\’ve been avoiding for months.

Do you begin to let negative thoughts dominate your life? Write down those blessings. Stand in front of the mirror and say 20 nice things about yourself—until you look like you mean it!

Does your spiritual life start to sag? Take 10 minutes a day to sit quietly and open yourself for guidance from your higher power. Don\’t talk to your higher power…just listen.

A SAFETY REMINDER: If you feel you have a psychiatric emergency, go directly to a family member, a friend, your physician, your pastor, or the nearest hospital emergency room and tell them you are in crisis and in need of immediate help.

Or Call 911 or one of these numbers:
1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433
1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255
For a Suicide Hotline in your state: www.suicidehotlines.com

Suicide is a permanent and tragic solution to a temporary problem. Get help.
Next Month: Thinking of Retirement—the End or the Beginning