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.



Dear Internet,

You may have noticed a drastic change in the design and layout of the site. I’ve been using the same theme for years and with so many changes and the cluttering, EPbaB is/was a hot mess. Like a child dressing up in their mother’s clothes.

I knew I had to re-do the design and layout, and while I was learning how to do backend from scratch  I was far far behind where I needed to be to make this site what I really wanted. Perusing through the WordPress Codex is often a disappointment as I ended up downloading and testing themes that are broken or far too complicated to use. (You know, like the ones who talk about how easy it is to drop and drag modules and you need a Phd to get it to work.) I stumbled upon Seasonal, which didn’t look like the other “personal” blog themes and was geared more towards my type of writing rather than those personal bloggers about their “brand.” Despite its attractiveness, I was weary. Very weary. But woah, all I did was just download the theme, configure it, and some small CSS changes. BOOM. It’s done (and under an hour to configure and launch I must add).

So hopefully you’ll like the site as much as I do and find it not only aesthetically pleasing but also easy to use.

If yesterday was spa day, Thursday was cleaning out my jewelry box that I’ve been lugging around for the last year day. I cannot even tell you what jewelry I DO own that is not with me. Last I knew, it was a lot of bullshit.

If you need a way to procrastinate, untangle your necklaces.

Pro Tip: If you slide the chains through straws, they won’t tangle up when you’re traveling.

Tuesday afternoon, after reading something or another on the interent, the world began to spin. There were two of everything as I struggled to right myself in my chair, calling out to TheExHusband to come help me. The few seconds it took to get from his office to me was enough for the moment to pass. A terrible low throbbing headache took hold and kept banging on for hours. I laid on the chaise, not doing much of anything as I waited for the headache to subside. It’s not that far-fetched to state I did nothing that evening.

Wednesday I had several appointments in the city that I did not want to miss but the thought of driving 10 miles of two lane country road and another 10 miles on a moderately busy two lane country road made me super anxious. I couldn’t get it out of my head I was going to have an attack while driving and thoughts of, “What would I do? How do I react?” flashing like a movie reel in my brain. I couldn’t shake the IMPENDING DOOM.

Half a Klonopin swallowed.

I did deep breathing and eyes open meditation as I drove, a very light sheen of sweat on my person when I pulled into my parking spot at the salon. The facial included a message of my face, arms/hands, and upper shoulders and i could feel the tension in my body actually getting worse rather than better since I was grinding my teeth every time she was touching me.

Full dose of Klonopin swallowed.

I weaved in and out of anxiety as I went about my day, dreading the thought of driving that 20 miles back to the cabin. Even stopping at Gallegher’s for donuts and cider didn’t really shake the impending doom.

Of course the Klonopin kicked in when I got home and everything was rosy.

Somedays it takes every once out of my being to pretend my heart is not palpitating a million miles a minute, impending doom is in my brain, and I am so scared to exist in this world. Every ounce of my being.


This Day in Lisa-Universe: 2001, 2001, 1999