Dear Internet,

How do you learn? How do you change your patterns to not make the same mistakes twice (or thrice, etc)?

If you’re self-aware, how do you change your life from being a pain in the ass and how do you stop sabotaging yourself?

I’ve talked on and on about ThePlan for years; there is a similar version, from 10 years ago (!), that is nearly identical to the one I’m plotting now.

I always planned on conquering the world tomorrow and my past was filled with nothing but those empty tomorrows where I just existed and did not really live.

And I felt that sense of panic, that I would end up dead and alone, eaten by ThePugKids, all three of them fighting to eat my hands and feet. I can almost see them burping with a self-satisfied look on their faces. If pugs could smirk, mine surely would in utter defiance of not being spoilt rotten.

Change “ThePugKids” to “Thursday” and it is still absolutely true.

(And it’s pretty freaking clear I just finished watching Bridget Jones’ Diary before I wrote the above.)

Ten years on and many things have changed: I went on to get a second masters, I got married, I got divorced, I got … well you know how my life has gone. And some things have changed for the better (being on better mood stabilizing drugs, seeing a therapist on the regular, exercising on the regular), and others — not so much.

This got me thinking on how I roughly learn things. During my ill spent youth, I’ve always tested higher than I assumed I would in all subjects. Meaning, I was put into advanced classes where I didn’t think I belonged. I remember the day in 8th grade math when I found out they were bumping me up to honors math in high school. How in thee hell did that happen? I believe I am terrible at math. (low self-esteem)

Everything came tumbling down in high school. I dropped out in 11th grade. Repeated it and dropped out again. I got my GED. My first foray into college was a hot mess – I scrapped by on an 1.7 GPA. I was too busy interviewing rock stars, working on the student newspaper, and trying to start up a college radio station to study.

<a decade passes>

Now I’m 30 and I’m going back to college for the second time. I am desperate to get my BA so I cut out extracurricular activities (see how that did me in first time around) and study, study, study. I pull my overall GPA up from a 1.7 to a 3.4ish and a 4.0 in my second bachelors, letting me graduate with distinction.

I’ve done it.

I apply the same methods to my first and second masters, graduating each with high marks.

So how was I able to change my studying habits, and thusly my life, around 180 degrees? It was not just about passion or wanting something badly, it was more than likely due to wanting to feel the accomplishment of having a goal and completing that goal. (With that only goal the thing in my mind’s eye, I’m less likely to wade off the path.)

This is fine and good in theory but how in the hell did I do it?

Knowing my learning style, how my brain operates, and carding1.

Not in a “I am too young to buy alcohol I hope they don’t card me” way or “I’m playing poker and i hope they don’t see my tells” way either.

Carding, for me, is where I write something down on an index card, and shuffle through them as if I am dealing hands in poker. My French class cards? Word on the front, permutations on the back. Those cards towered in the inches thick category. Art History cards? Names, periods, movements, paintings — all carded. Name of thing on the front, every little bit of info I could cram on the back.

This went on for all my classes.

Where did I learn how to card? When I started college again, I volunteered to be a literacy tutor through the public library. In the training we were taught about the different methods of how people learned. I never thought about learning styles before or hell, even knew it existed. That’s when it all clicked.

For me to grasp a concept, the following has to happen:

  • An instructor lecturs (auditory) while I take notes (read-write)
  • I need to ask questions and discuss it to understand (kinesthetic)
  • Later, I card my notes (read-write)
  • I continue to go over my cards to cement the ideas (read-write)
  • By continually going over the cards, and going through the lecture in my head, I can break down and piece together the thing I am learning into something tangible

One thing I’m often saying is, “I need to figure it out on my own before I can get it.” (kinesthetic). I cannot learn a behaviour/thing with someone telling me how it works; it means nothing to me. For me to learn something, I need to experience it myself. If I want to learn how to fix a computer, I need to take it apart and put it together again. Now I’ve done X (taking apart a computer) and learned it leads to Y (fixing broken thing on a computer).

People have told me how this would work, but I didn’t believe them until I did it myself.

(The whole “don’t tell me, let me figure it out myself” can get a bit messy during emotional entanglements and I’ll just leave it at that.)

Most importantly, what works with learning styles, is my need for structure.

If I don’t have structure in my life, in any form, I flounder. Working a full time gig helps significantly with structuring where as being a freelance writer makes it super messy for me to keep in control. I’ve tried setting up my day to the minute before and that’s too much, I need something between ultra regiment and chaos.This is why it was agreed I needed a co-working space.

Now with all of that laid out, add in my mental disorders: borderline (attention seeking), bipolar (mania, disorganized behaviour, racing thoughts), adhd (fidgeting, boredom, forgetfulness), and our favorite pal anxiety and you see it gets a bit chaotic.

Knowing how these three things (structure, learning style, knowing how my mind works) worked is how I aced my education and kept my life together for many years.

(I am so burying the lede.)

I started the lede in the third paragraph: ThePlan2.

I’ve done variation after variation of ThePlan over the years and it’s always starts strong, starts to wane, and eventually fizzles out. How can I change this behaviour and make it last?

That is the ultimate question.

Carding will be my answer.

DBT’s main purpose is to change how your brain works. This idea is also the foundation for most of the self-help books out there. However, DBT is backed by scientists, papers, shrinks, and research3.

The four critical skills of DBT are:

  • Distress Tolerance Coping better with painful events
  • Mindfulness Experience living in the moment
  • Emotion Regulation Being able to recognize what you feel and then observe what’s happening so you don’t feel overwhelmed
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness Tools to express beliefs and needs; to set limits and work on negative problems

In order for DBT to work, you have to do it every single day. You have to practice some of the techniques to continue to rewire your brain. You can’t do what I did, start reading the book, highlight things, and then forget about it. This serves no one.

This is where carding comes in.

I had clear photo case box with 5×7 and 3×5 cards, purchased for a writing project that never got off the ground. I created the following dividers:

  • Things accomplished A listing of things I’ve done for that so I keep track of things I would normally forget, like how many times that week I’ve worked out. Each day has it’s own card
  • Negativity Disputation Techniques Techniques when I’m feeling feelings about something. An example of the ABCDE disputation technique:
    • Adversity  I can’t write
    • Beliefs Everything has been written
    • Consequence I have not written a story/article
    • Disputation I’m not scheduling time to write
    • Energize How can I change this behaviour
  • Gratitudes and Happy Things Weekly cards of things I’m happy or grateful or both of things from I really love the smell of pineapple juice to I have a large support network
  • Pithy Statements Those memes we see around the interwebs with such sayings as Dream big. Dream bigger. I have a love hate relationship with these things — hence they “pithy statement” card, but sometimes a girl needs a reminder of such things.
  • Mind / Body / Soul Cards that I need to fulfill that desire. Meditation and reading everyday (Mind); drink more water (Body); find good in people (Soul). Mind / body / soul each have their own dividers but I’ll probably itnergrate these things into the Happy Things list.
  • DBT Reminders Distraction plans (do yoga, smell someone else (YES. I will presume I’m weird. I associate people with smells, you smell good – you are a good person. You smell bad to me – you’re probably not such a good person. TheBassist has a specific scent of his deodorant mixed with pheromones mixed with normal body scent. (I’ve been known to sniff his deodorant when I was not feeling so great. Don’t judge me. (He knows.)) Steph smells like patchouli and vanilla. Mini-me smells of hot cocoa and clean shampoo.)), things to put into action (move your body)

My day to day:

  • I use my Bullet Journal to create my todo lists for the day
  • I do my todo list
  • I work on DBT stuff (do my homework, read, go over the cards)
  • I meditate
  • I do things that need to be done but are not on the todo list (walk the dog, load and unload the dishwasher)
  • I write down my accomplishments and my gratitudes
  • Move my body somehow
  • Write something

Some days there is more but the above is always the same.

Remember the breakdown I gave on how I learn? Let’s apply that to how to train my brain with DBT:

  • Someone lectures / talks to me about things: therapist / friends (auditory)
  • I need to ask questions and discuss it to understand (kinesthetic)
  • Later, I card my notes from therapy / add to DBT pile (read-write)
  • I continue to go over my cards to cement the ideas (read-write)
  • By continually going over the cards, and going through the discussions in my head, I can break down and piece together the thing I am learning/knowing into something tangible

You may think I’m crazy for putting this together. You may think this is a lot of work. You may think this is a load of bullshit. You don’t have to like it, agree with it, or even do what I’m doing. That is all fine. What I can tell you is while I’m just slowly making my way towards the good parts of life, this has been helping. It’s been a week, I know, but having this kind of structure (see above) helps me shape my life.

It looks like a  lot of work – it isn’t. Outside of my reading (about a half an hour a day), I spend another 10-15 carding. It looks complicated (it isn’t).

But it doesn’t matter. It’s for me and not for you. The end.


This Day in Lisa-Universe: 2015, 2015

1. Carding is my fancy way of saying, “flash cards.”
2. Literally the number one reason why the TheBassist left was/is because I am a flight risk (borderline). The plan, as he says, always kept changing. I didn’t think so as I updated him as soon as I knew things, but, I’ll have to concede he has a point as I was so wishy washy. On more than one occasion he compared me to my being Lucy and his being Charlie Brown and the plan was the football.
3. I recommend Dialectal Skills Workbook and DBT Skills Training. While it is recommended you see a DBT specialist, you can certainly work on this solo.

antikythera mechanism

Dear Internet,

I scored an in person (second) interview with the Connecticut institution and it’s happening this upcoming week. The length of the scheduled time turns out to be shorter than I was told/planning on, which is leaving me some hours to hang out in and see what’s what in the area. One thing I am not looking forward to is Connecticut drivers as they drive like assholes. Turn signals are not accessories, fuck twats!

The Louisville institution second job interview went well and you can find my presentation here (which seemed to get a lot of positive commentary from the internet). The job is really quite spectacular as it’s a new position in which the person who gets the job can write their own job description and responsibilities, much like the Connecticut position. Both of the positions are super flexible and if there is one thing pulling Connecticut ahead of the job game is the ability to wear jeans to work. As we all know, I’m not a business casual kind of person and oh I can DO business casual but if I don’t HAVE to, awesome. Thanks!

I’m now two for two vis-à-vis second person interviews thus making my chances of a job offer higher than previously thought possible (at least in my mind). I’ve been going over and over mentally how to figure out what to do here if by some miracle both institutions extend offers. If only one extends the offer then it’s a easy choice – I go where the money is but if two? I keep meaning to write down the pros and cons for both so I’m better prepared to make this (if needed) choice.

The backup plan if there are no job offers is to start looking for academic librarian positions, nationally, in January and junior developer courses here in Louisville. I’ve been working with Code Louisville by fast tracking coding courses via Treehouse. This week I’ve spent nearly forty hours spread out over three days on said fast tracking. Code Louisville’s goal is to put people into the work force by giving them marketable skills and if there is ever an up and coming tech sector, it’s Louisville.

Overall, I am excited to be in this position. It’s a long time coming but if there is a chance I can make the choice, that would be wonderful.

I have been evading FEELINGS on a manner of all things these last few weeks. Feeling are vulnerabilities and trying to get some semblance of a life together when having FEELINGS is fucking terrible. FEELINGS trigger anxiety, I take the anti-anxiety drugs to quell the panic, feelings are suppressed. Take anti-anxiety drugs to prevent the attacks, suppress the FEELINGS.

It’s a no fucking win situation over here. (And why I sleep 10+ hours a night on all of the anti-anxiety drugs I’m on.)

I could blame it on a number of things such as not addressing them properly this year, new med adjustments, the weather, time of year — a whole host of things normally attributed to this place I seriously don’t want to be. My paper journal is filled with page after page of how much I hate feeling like this, how I am so desperate to change this emotional space, how I just want to stop treading water and learn how to swim again.

I can’t remember a time when I was feeling this emotionally bare. (I lied. Spring of 2013.) Even with not renewing the contract on my last position, the law suit, the divorce, the constant moving, breaking up with TheBassist — all within the last 18 months — somehow I’ve handled those more or less with aplomb (I thought) and was better managing emotional hiccups. But it’s pretty clear every goddamned thing that has happened in the last 18 months has, finally, taken its emotional toll and it takes every ounce of my being to wake up, work out, plan a day of doing stuff, go to bed at a reasonable hour. I’m trying so hard to put one foot in front of the other, to just keep moving forward.

I’ve got shit to do! People to see! Places to go!

The hardest part is knowing this is all a temporary glitch. There have been worse emotional spaces and I can dig myself back out again just as I had before. I’ve done this dance and I can take it to end coming out smelling like roses. I akin it to growing pains: You know it happens and you have to remind yourself that at some point this too will pass. (Or you get better drugs.)

As I wrote this, I mentally went back through the last five or so years and realized I HAVE been here before and it had everything to do with change in medication (primarily). Circumstances, sure I’ll buy it. Swallowing 18 months worth of feelings and having it resurrect its ugly head? Absolutely. Scrapping down the emotional bone into the marrow?

Drugs. 95% of the time it is always the goddamned drugs having gone awry.

Fuck it all to hell.

Even though I am bipolar-1 (manic), I get bouts of depression here and there, most of the time ranging for a few days and passing just as quickly. In the early spring of 2013 when I went through a med change with my then medicating doctor, I felt a whole lot worse than this. How I was able to function in the capacity that I did is amazing. What we had to do was get me off the drugs by slowly weaning me off the anti-depressants / bipolar  as well as the ADHD  drugs and get me acclimated to just using Lithium, which then stopped working.

My brain chemistry metabolizes medicating drugs too quickly. What should happen to most people in weeks, happens to me in days. Ritalin last a few days before I had to go off of it. Same with Lithium. SSRIs made me suicidal. Bedrock between desperately wanting some normalcy and a brain that won’t let you have it.

Since that last bought in 2013, I’ve been ever so careful with how I take and manage my drugs. Now I’m furious with myself for not having recognize these signs sooner.

I saw my medicating therapist last week and per his edict, if I wasn’t feeling some relief by the weekend (which is now), I’m to double up on my anti-depressants, which I’ve done. I’m to call tomorrow and leave a message to have him call in more of the anti-depressant. I need to be razor sharp and on point this week and for a long time coming. Fucking around with my brain chemistry is a delicate balance.

TheExHusband agreed this is slightly reminiscent of that time in 2013 but then I wouldn’t leave the house for days on end, I curled up in a ball and cried. A lot. I barely showered or took care of myself compared to this morning where I walked nearly three miles with him and the pug, did six loads of laundry, gave the pug a bath, about to put the laundry away, and chill for the evening. My brain may be fuzzled but goddamned wasn’t I productive.

He also remarked in comparison to this time last year, hell even six months ago, how I handle things, coping with things, just doing LIFE is a 180 degree turn around. And I reject the idea of stabilization — who is ever perfectly stabilized? Life is a hot mess — but being able to handle life with grace and dignity, which despite my whinging on and off here, is what I aim for and what I’m doing.

And I take pride in that.

I stumbled across a post this morning on rejection, the psychological break-down of why it hurts so much (it’s wired to the same place in the brain as physical pain), why it’s prolonged (we take too critical look at ourselves. Rejection is not personal – it’s about “fit” and circumstance), and how to fix it (re-affirming our self-worth by the good things we have to offer in whatever circumstance the rejection comes from). It makes for an interesting read.

This time of year it’s especially poignant to remember not everyone is in a safe space, mentally, emotionally, or physically. I’m lucky, and if you want to call it blessed then so be it, despite all my faults, I’m physically in a safe space, I have mental and emotional support. Not many can say that, especially now.


liège waffle

Dear Internet,

Right. New plan.

It began when I was muttering to myself in the ladies at the TA in Youngstown, OH. This was pre-coffee, post-medication. Mid-late afternoon last week.

I was muttering that if only Throbbing Cabin (which TheSoonToBeExHusband is keeping) was open and available for me to go live at during the winter (TSTBEH is a generous soul) while I did my individual thing. But we closed it for winter back in September; Leelanau County received 241″ of snow last year; heating would run millions since the heating infrastructure is absolute shit and lastly, I would be miles and miles away from the nearest town. I wanted to be alone, not Jack Torrance.

(It was a very long pee.)

Then the near perfection dawned on me: Get a studio in Grand Rapids! It’s cheaper than the east coast. TheBassist would be doing his thing on the east coast, TSTBEH would start his new life in Louisville. I get my payout from the selling of the house, pay off the cards, pay off Jeeves, pay rent for a year, pay car insurance for a year and I’d only have to worry about food, phone, and interwebs and write that blasted book I’ve been banging on about forever, plus a few other writing projects.

Fucking genius.

It’s all coming together.

As soon as I got into GR that early evening, after spending a cumulative 16 hours driving, I immediately launched into my plan with TSTBEH. He had told me, and I had forgotten apparently in the Asian land war of my brain, that I was only to show up on his door if I was serious about getting back together and yet here I was standing on his front door step telling him we were most definitely not getting back together.

He accepted my decision gracefully and I think, along with TheBassist, that something about my demeanor (or the drugs were stabilizing me) was different than before as both of them seemed more receptive to this plan over any other cockamamie schemes I had come up with in recent weeks. TheBassist requested, and I provided, a PLAN as a guide of what I’ll be doing in money/job, mental health, physical health, living, and relationships. I also gave a copy of the plan to the cabal that is CMMRB and they too, whom other than the two men in my life have been holding me up every step of the way, approved of the plan.

ThePlan, is more or less a check list of things to do in the upcoming year with a review at six months. I also added in a three year and five year addendum for shits and giggles. Each topic has a list of things that must continue (for example, under Mental I have a listing of continuing to see my talking therapist, Dr. P) and need to be done (get a referral for a local medicating therapist to monitor my drugs and seem them on a regular basis). Some of it is reminders (stop eating dairy) while others are nudges (walk more).

After that I said on Facebook,

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve been on the Lamictal/Abilify drug mix and I will say this:

  • When I get a million “to do” items in my head, I immediately create a ToDo list and work on it. Follow through on said items has been great.
  • I am prioritizing the ToDo list better.
  • Appetite is down and I’m not over eating at meals.
  • Daily tasks, like meditation, I have been diligent on.
  • I feel pretty good when I commit to a thing, I’m sticking with it.
  • The need to smoke is decreasing. Yay!


  • Sleep is broken. I went to bed at 10:30 last night and woke up at 2, 4:30, 5:45, and finally at 7:48.
  • I cannot take SSRIs because I am one of the rare cases I’ll get suicidal thoughts though when on SSRIs, I obviously did not follow through. Now, I am getting destructive behaviour thoughts like when driving across the bridges in Pennsylvania, I wondered what would happen when I swerved into the medians. Using mediation techniques, I accept them as thoughts and let them come and then go and do not fight them. But it’s still slightly scary.
  • I am getting some relief and I don’t feel as yo-yoing as before. I have a long way to go, but I do feel like this is small steps in the right direction.

The big thing to note here is the ability to prioritize and accomplish tasks which, as someone with adhd along with the other delightful gifts, is damned near difficult to follow through. But so far, not really a problem.

That Friday I made phone calls/emails to six property management companies and referrals I found on Craig’s List. As of a week later, none of the property management companies returned my calls, but the referrals via Craig’s List did. I set up appointments, starting on Saturday, and took the first place I visited because it was absolutely perfect. Not a studio, but a 600 sqft one bedroom located in a 145 year old house that used to be a hospital after the Civil War. There are five apartments in the building, mine is a second floor walk up, and the amenities are out of the world.

  • Heat (gas) and water included. This is gold in Michigan since my last apartment I rented in an old house ran me $400-500 for heat a month during the winter, which combined with my reasonable rent, made it crazy expensive
  • Trash/recycle / snow plowing / lawn maintenance
  • Off street parking
  • Locked front door entrance
  • Pets allowed
  • All original wood floors, paneling, and molding throughout the apartments and building
  • 10′ ceilings
  • Same area as Throbbing Manor, so damned near perfect location
  • Big windows
  • Bedroom oversees the city landscape since I’m on mid-hill
  • Owner is allowing me to pay a year in advance, with 5% discount, and option that if I end up leaving before the year, monies will be returned once the apartment is re-rented (which shouldn’t be an issue)
  • Coin operated laundry in the basement

I signed the lease and gave my deposit three days later. So now I have a place, a budget, and a plan.

Right, to make sure we’re all on the same page:

  • TSTBEH and I are divorcing, finalizing probably in February
  • The house closes on 12/16
  • He’s moving to Louisville
  • I’m staying in GR to live the bachelorette life in my own pad and get my writing done
  • I have a talking therapist here (Dr. P.) and soon, a medicating therapist. My GP will be regulating my drugs until then

Three or six months or a year later, who knows. But at least now I have ThePlan to follow.


This Day In Lisa-Universe: 2013