26 Nov 2013 4 Comments
“It became a point where I wanted to die. I didn’t have any reasons to live. Maybe it’s selfish to say that, but I was not excited about anything. Then you have to find back your self-esteem. And then, slowly, every piece of yourself becomes precious again.” —Jean Claude Van Damme on his rapid cycling bipolar disorder and cocaine addiction.
Thanks to David Kanigan for showing me this video.
18 Nov 2013 4 Comments
I love talking in different accents. It is truly one of the joys of my life to shift from Southern Belle to Cockney to KGB operative in one conversation. Here’s one of the masters.
16 Nov 2013 Leave a Comment
I was just enjoying Nancy Carvers Pinterest board on the ’60s and remembered one of my favorite songs. Rainy Saturdays in my room, listening to the radio and reading Tiger Beat.
Oo, and this one!
16 Nov 2013 10 Comments
Cycling again, and trying to experience it differently (My endless mantra—”Let’s try this…”). Working with the practices in Radical Acceptance, I breathe and notice how the despair and sorrow feel in my body. I try to give all that pain room and accept that this is my experience for now.
I’ve done this work before, realized that I feel nothing in the belly when depression is deep, constriction in my chest, constant pressure of tears trying to escape. The new piece is acceptance and compassion for the whole of my experience—being kind to it all.
It’s too hard to do alone, so I’ll ask my new therapist to help me when I see her on Monday. I want to run from the pain, numb it however I can, find diversion to keep from noticing it. And that’s standard psychological practice—when symptoms are too overwhelming, find healthy diversion. So, I wonder if I’m going too deep, trying to offer space when I should be sitting at the movies being distracted. I’ve done both this week.
One thing Tara talks about in her book, is compassionate self-talk—telling yourself that you care about the suffering that’s happening. When I read that passage yesterday, I realized that’s something I’ve done all my life through my stories.
I’ve always been a little embarrassed by my fan fiction. It’s not considered “real” prose by literary types, just obsessive verbal stalking by lonely fan-girls. To counteract my shame, I try to write well and develop a solid plot. I do research and all the other things “real” writers do. But they still feel like dirty secrets. I’ve often wondered if my fantasies are pathological, even though every therapist I’ve ever seen says they’re good for me. I go there, the place in me that holds and generates my stories, when my symptoms swamp me. I feel ill and desperate when I go to that Haven, so I question whether it’s healthy.
But the stories that spin out are always loving, kind, supportive and validating. The characters who show up tell me the things I can’t tell myself. They are the friends who always have time for me, the lovers who “see all my light, and love my dark.” They take care of me, which reminds me of what I need to do to take care of myself.
Take the story that followed me around all day yesterday:
I was at a party at Tom Hiddleston’s house with my boyfriend, Benedict Cumberbatch. Tom hosted the party because Chris Hemsworth and his family were back in town (London) as were Anthony Hopkins and his wife (he lives in the US now). David Tennant and his wife, and Simon Pegg and his wife, were also there.
These are all characters than have inhabited my Haven before. It’s an ongoing stream, like real life, where people come and go. Acquaintances become friends, friends become lovers. We meet, part, meet again in different circumstances. What we share and learn about each other carries over to the next scenario. Sometimes these streams become solid enough to write. Mostly they just live in my Haven and wait for the next development.
At this particular party, Tom asked if I would sing for them (I sing a lot in these stories—always beautifully and with stunning effect). I didn’t want to. In the story I was sliding into depression and didn’t know some of the people there. But I agreed anyway. After singing the Alanis Morissette song “Everything” (which happened to be playing on my iPod), David and Simon wanted to set me up with a music producer they knew. Their insistence was too much, their enthusiasm pushed me too hard. I escaped out the front door to the street. I was overwhelmed, embarrassed, worried that I’d ruined the party, worried that I’d wear out these new friends like I’d worn out everyone else in my life, worried that Benedict would leave me now, and basically felt wretched.
Sir Anthony came after me. I’d never met him before that night, but enjoyed his company at dinner. He brought a jacket—I’d run out without one—and asked if he could walk with me. He asked what happened, and I told him. He asked gentle questions that gave me space. He talked about his own struggle with alcoholism and depression. He understood. He reminded me that my friends’ enthusiasm was just their way of loving me. We talked about acting, and music, and living fully with mental illness. He’d seen work I’d done (of course, I act in these stories, too), and said he had a script at home that he wanted to send me. He thought we’d be brilliant in this piece together.
When we went back into the house, Benedict was waiting. Not worried, just present, ready to provide whatever I needed—comfort, acceptance, steadfastness. Tom was worried that he’d caused me distress (because I think that’s what Tom Hiddleston would really do). The rest of the party didn’t pay much attention to Tony and me going out—they had moved on to other conversation and high-energy story-telling. And I was fine in my vulnerability, cocooned in love.
This story played out all day yesterday. I was in a lot of distress, and when journaling and movies quit distracting me, the Story would come back and a new piece of comfort and space opened up.
I think I’m done being embarrassed by my stories. I think I finally understand how important they are to my mental health. When I need love and acceptance the most, I give it to myself through them. And, really, I think that’s pretty cool.
12 Nov 2013 6 Comments
I saw Anoushka Shankar, daughter of sitar master Ravi Shankar, at a free concert in Grinnell College last night. Amazing. Beautiful. Musical Genius. Here she is with half-sister, Nora Jones.
09 Nov 2013 4 Comments
I loved George Harrison.
Now, here’s his son, Dhani.
05 Nov 2013 8 Comments
in bipolar disorder, books, developing consciousness, mental health, mixed-media art Tags: body awareness, desire, mindfulness, Radical Acceptance Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, Tara Brach, wanting
Today I started the chapter on Desire and Wanting—what I’ve considered my biggest nemesis and Fatal Flaw. Wanting turns me into someone else—ravenous, obsessive, and ultimately unworthy. I’ve tried sitting quietly with it, holding it with curious compassion, but usually end up drowning it in whatever will make it shut up. Of course, nothing does that for long.
Tara tells about a time when she was at the beginning of a new relationship. She went off to a meditation retreat, looking forward to peace and rejuvenation, but all she could do was fantasize about her new boyfriend. Here’s what she says about it:
After several days, I had a pivotal interview with my teacher. When I described how I’d become so overwhelmed, she asked, “How are you relating to the presence of desire?” I was startled into understanding. For me, desire had become the enemy, and I was losing the battle. Her questions pointed me back to the essence of mindfulness practice: It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we are relating to our experience. She advised me to stop fighting my experience and instead investigate the nature of wanting mind. I could accept whatever was going on, she reminded me, but without getting lost in it.
While often uncomfortable, desire is not bad—it is natural. The pull of desire is part of our survival equipment. It keeps us eating, having sex, going to work, doing what we do to thrive. Desire also motivates us to read books, listen to talks and explore spiritual practices that help us realize and inhabit loving awareness. The same life energy that leads to suffering also provides the fuel for profound awakening. Desire becomes a problem only when it takes over our sense of who we are.
We are mindful of desire when we experience it with an embodied awareness, recognizing the sensations and thoughts of wanting as arising and passing phenomena. While this is not easy, as we cultivate the clear seeing and compassion of Radical Acceptance, we discover we can open fully to this natural force and remain free in its midst.
Feeling my emotions in my body is something I’ve been practicing for only a short time. I’m more used to sitting in meditation and simply noting my physical state, not pausing in the midst of emotional pain to find it in my body. Frankly, it’s frightening. But the more I do it, the more I can accept whatever my body feels. It’s hard not to jump ahead and wonder if this might be another piece in the puzzle of how to deal with my compulsive symptoms (There’s Wanting, again). So, I just note that—feel the jittery, acid-burn of Wanting in my belly; the buzzy energy lighting up my arms and back—and breathe into the experience.
This is new, and exciting, and scary. I want more. But not today. Today I’ll just stick to paying attention to what this experience feels like in my body. That’s enough foreign language to digest for one day.
03 Nov 2013 4 Comments
This wonderful Sunday Feast comes from my spirit-walking friend Marshall.
Louis Alemayehu is a writer, educator, administrator, poet, father, grandfather, performer & activist of African & Native American heritage. Louis is a cofounder of the Native Arts Circle, the oldest Native American artists organization in the Upper Midwest. In 2003 the Headwaters Foundation gave Louis an award for life-long commitment to social justice. Currently, Alemayehu’s work focuses on teaching, writing, performance, mentorship, community organizing, charter schools & organizational development. Samples of his Ancestor Energy CD, AllWhere, can be heard online at cdbaby.com.