Healing after abuse & grief with discipline - but how?
December 3, 2017 6:43 AM   Subscribe

hi everyone. i am writing this as an attempt to heal from depression by figuring out how to become more disciplined. important to note: i have complex PTSD. pete walker is a genius at this, & his book was the biggest a-ha moment of my life so far. tell me -- how does one become disciplined? what are small steps? what are big steps? what books do you recommend? videos? resources in general?

i have a super dysfunctional family, i'm not close to my siblings, and my father died a few months ago leaving an incredible, weeping wound.

since he died, i have persistent fantasies about no longer living. i am not afraid of death anymore. i am petrified of living my own dreams of being a creative. being of service through art has always filled me with joy.

now, i struggle through depression. i am in the dissertation-writing phase of a ph.d which i am determined to complete. but most days are so hard.

part of it is that i never had structure as a child, nor learned discipline (self-control/delayed gratification). i was a precocious, perceptive child, as many abused children tend to be, and an overachiever, as many children of controlling parents tend to be. but i've never been disciplined in a consistent manner.

i am seeing a therapist. i don't want to wake up sad/scared/hopeless because my country is falling apart at the seams and i feel useless. i don't want to wake up feeling like my attempts to create art is pointless.

some days i imagine how beautiful life will be on the other side of all this trauma. i want to get there. i know i CAN. i have read great books on this topic of healing trauma:

+co-dependent, now what by lisa a romano
+complex ptsd by pete walker
+the power of now by eckhart tolle
+you can heal your life by louise hay
+how to be an adult in relationships by dave richo

i have watched endless youtube videos on the law of attraction, visualization, NLP, creativity, endurance, and resilience.

the undergirding principle that i take from these books and videos is that DISCIPLINE is the key to changing your life. even self-care requires discipline. learning to love the self requires discipline.

i start, stop, and start again. it's why i am behind my dissertation schedule & other projects i want to get off the ground.

whatever wisdom you have to impart, i'm listening. thank you.

i am vegetarian. i try to drink 1 liter of water per day. i have a sweet tooth, but try to eat vegetables/cook. i'm an undisciplined spender. i meditate some days. i journal some days. i have a few amazing friends, but am in the painful process of letting go toxic relationships with "best" friends. i am single & dating, though very carefully now, rather than rushing in. i make my own schedule ( a HUGE privilege, i know!). i'm a dreamer. i'm shy around strangers, but long to connect. this is the first time i'm writing something on a forum asking for help. i'm a woman.
posted by inbloom to Human Relations (6 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that helped me is realizing that I didn't trust myself so I needed to work on building up that trust. I had been making promises to myself willynilly: "I'm going to start washing the dishes everyday! And eat lots of veggies! And I'm never going to procrastinate again!" Which was just setting myself up for failure -- and once again proving to myself that I couldn't trust me when I made promises.

So I started being very careful about the commitments I made to myself. I might notice that the dishes weren't getting washed but instead of immediately going to "I will always wash them!" I noted it and spent some time deciding if washing dishes was the commitment I wanted to make to myself at that point, knowing that I could only focus on one or two new commitments at a time.

Any commitment I make to myself has to be:
-- something I felt was really important
-- achievable (no more setting myself up for failure)
-- measurable (so I know I'm succeeding)
-- time bound (having an ending date means I can decide if I want to re-up on that commitment or move on to something else)

I started with small things so I could build up a history of success and start to know that I could rely on myself. As time has gone on, I have a relationship with myself built on trust and I know that when I decide to do something, I will do it. (Or, I will have a well-considered reason to end the commitment.)

This has worked for me but my issues might not be your issues. Overall, though, be kind and gentle with yourself!
posted by mcduff at 7:19 AM on December 3, 2017 [25 favorites]

There's several overlapping questions in your post and I don't quite know how to approach all of it, but I'll start with what I know (we'll come back to this later). I see a lot of past-me in your question, even though our circumstances are different in many ways too. Here's a couple of observations from my perspective, in hopes that it helps:

Perfectionism leads to avoidance leads to procrastination, at least for me. It's easy to say "Oh I can't do that as well as I want to, so I won't start it." Have you seen Ira Glass on taste and the creative process? "Perfect is the enemy of good." You don't have to change the world today, you probably can't change the world today, but if you don't start working on trying, and take the small steps, and get the practice, you'll not get the skills and experience and connections you need to change the world later. Doing the hard stuff now is how you learn to make it look easy later, right?

When approaching a huge unapproachable task, it can be really overwhelming — you want me to WHAT? — I break it into components, and break the components into components, and so on and, and so on, until I decompose it into a problem that maybe looks like something I kinda know how to solve if I squint at it and tilt my head a bit. Then I solve that. Now I've got a piece I can use to look at the rest of the problem. "Okay, I've got a [whatever]. Can I bolt another idea onto that and get closer to where I want to be?" I primarily write software but the same approach has worked for designing physical things, and academic writing.

The Ph.D process fucks with your head. I'm pretty sure it's designed to fuck with your head, tear down your sense of self, and remake you as a researcher. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but that's how I ended up thinking about it after spending six years not finishing it. Doing that traumatic work while also dealing with the other trauma you mention sounds really hard, and big ups to you for pushing through it. That said, don't let all the people in the Ph.D bubble convince you that it is the One True Way. A Ph.D is a tool -- it gets you a license to lead research in a university setting, if that's what you want to do. It has other perks too, but at the end of the day it's still just a credential. It's not a referendum on your value as a human being. Plenty of people do amazing things without a Ph.D, and I've worked with plenty of Ph.Ds who I wouldn't trust to find their way out of a wet paper sack. I've also worked with ridiculously brilliant Ph.Ds and clueless folks without 'em -- it's just one data-point, not your whole self.

Remember that you want this, and you are here writing the dissertation because you want to be. You don't have to be here. You could stop, go do something else, and life would go on and you would still be a perfectly cool person. I found that thinking about it as a choice made me much happier and healthier than feeling "I HAVE TO DO THIS OR I AM A WORTHLESS TERRIBLE UNEMPLOYABLE SACK OF GARBAGE" all day. Not sure if you're feeling that or I'm projecting, but hopefully it's a useful perspective. (I dropped out because I realized that the particular Ph.D I was in was not setting me up to live the life I wanted to live. I do not endorse either path -- I do endorse figuring out what you want and deciding if any particular thing gets you closer to that goal)!

Sometimes you have to build your own structure. I find it easier to do that if I can do the things I wrote about above: get something down on paper even if it's not perfect, iterate and refine, and learn through that practice. I'm an engineer, maybe this is engineer's disease talking, but I find that if I can see a bit of progress, that helps. Breaking things down into smaller more approachable problems helps me get that kick of progress (and breaking things down is progress in itself)! And you're lucky enough to be in a place where you are choosing to do a really hard thing that will bring you closer to your goals! Remember that you are deciding to be here, and heck, this shit is crazy but you are doing it!

Have you talked to your therapist about medication? I temporarily got a very low dose of an antidepressant when I was at my nadir in grad school. It helped me get through the worst of it, get my shit in order, and get onto the next thing. Not saying you have to, not saying it will work, but it may be a thing to look at.

And I just wrote a novel here. Hang in there, you can do this.
posted by Alterscape at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm currently having some success with the book This Year I Will. I'm only two weeks in though. Ask me again in a year. On preview, the advice in the book sounds very similar to the advice from mcduff.
posted by GregorWill at 7:30 AM on December 3, 2017

ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) helps me in this regard. It works for me because it's not about saying "things aren't as bad as I think" but instead it's about facing it: "things are bad, so what candle in the darkness will I light today?" I particularly like the books by Russ Harris: The Happiness Trap, ACT Made Simple, and Getting Unstuck in ACT.

Also, if you haven't read The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, it has several good practical techniques for avoiding procrastination, but it doesn't talk about feelings as much.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who's worked with a lot of trauma survivors, I'd caution you to be careful with Law of Attraction-type stuff. In my experience, it ends with survivors spending a lot of time and energy blaming themselves for having "attracted" the past abuse, and getting stuck in really dysfunctional self-blame/victim-blaming cycles. I've found that, scary as it is, being willing to radically accept the notion that one has very little control over one's life is a much stronger foundation for building up the "discipline" that you seem to be talking about. "Life is random and scary and bad stuff happens, but I'm going accept that, decide what my own priorities are, and pursue them, and I have the resilience to deal with any badness that occurs" seems to be a less-anxious, more stable base than "If I do everything right, nothing bad will ever happen to me, and so if anything bad ever does happen, it must be my fault."
posted by lazuli at 8:35 AM on December 3, 2017 [27 favorites]

If you haven't read Get It Done When You're Depressed, it's an easy read and will probably have a few useful ideas for you.
posted by salvia at 1:44 PM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

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