Adding to to the Bad-Ass Arsenal

Xena 6Today is the end of the four-day week for those of us in treatment.  That means there’s a long, four-day weekend ahead of us with Memorial Day tagged on the end of it.  To get from this side of the holiday weekend to the other requires planning, setting goals for each day, getting out of the apartment, spending time with friends, tending to chores.  A structured mind is a tidy mind.

A couple of Ah-Ha moments this week.  My regular therapist, Megan, and I have been working on Mindfulness practices for several months, but one of the homework modules from treatment put that work in a different light.  It talked about developing a stronger tolerance to emotional distress.  We can’t stop the feelings and moods, but we can become more tolerant of them with practice.  Mindfulness is a way to do that.  The teaching material called it “doing the opposite” of what we habitually do in times of distress.  Most people try to escape the emotional pain, numb it, distract oneself from it.  The opposite of that knee-jerk reaction is to accept the current distress.  Sit with it.  Use meditation, journaling and other methods to pay attention to it and watch how it might shift.

The homework assignments my counselor in treatment have given me come from the Centre for Clinical Intervention, a wonderful Australian website where workbook-type modules on all areas of mental health are available for free.   What a wonderful service!  Those Aussies have the right idea.

The other Ah-Ha moment came with a suggestion in group.  I’ve always maintained a one-size-fits-all management plan for my illness, but it was put to me that I need a different plan when I’m suffering a lapse.  A lapse is when symptoms reappear, but haven’t dragged a person into a long bout that effects functioning in the world.  As someone with the rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder,  I considered myself symptomatic most of the time.  But, I can see now that there are symptoms and there are SYMPTOMS.  There are signs when my “normal” cycling shifts to a lapse—depression that lasts longer than three days, change in sleep quality, etc.  Like an early warning tornado siren, I can watch for the signs of a lapse and put my Emergency Step-Up Plan in place.  It gives me more power.  And I do love gathering sharp-edged tools for my Bad-Ass armory.  I added quite a bit to the arsenal this week.

Confession

PJ

Whenever I see that someone in New Zealand visited my blog, I’m sure it was Peter Jackson.

Stepping Up To Recovery

DestinyAhh.  There’s nothing like two weeks in the hospital to perk a person up.

As always, the experience of partial hospitalization is a combination of learning and acceptance.  Because the program has changed so much, the learning curve is a little different this time.  Mercy Hospital merged their Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse programs.  Theoretically, this makes complete sense.  Most folks with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to dull the symptoms and escape from their emotional pain.  Treating both at the same time rounds up all the demons in one pen.

But, I’m one of the lucky few who’s only hooked on second helpings and Cheetos.  As I told my counselor at Mercy, “I understand the whole 12 Step shtick.  It’s a gateway to doing the inner work we all need to do.  It’s not my gateway, but I can respect it.”

So, I’m learning a lot about addiction, resistance, and willfulness.  I’m appreciating my life in comparison to folks who have faced a Rock Bottom a bit rockier than mine.  I admire these fierce, ruthless addicts in their fight to be free and clean.  I’ve made more personal connections this time around than ever before, because… well… I’m one of them.  Badasses tend to recognize one another.

And, again, I see a bit more clearly that I’m meant to do this work.  Once the depression started to lift, I found myself able to listen closely and catch signals of distress and/or bullshit.  Again, I found the staff remarking on those skills and encouraging me to continue.  One counselor said, “I need you working in the adolescent unit.”

I get it now.  I need to do this kind of work.  Not just because I’m good at it, but because it’s the next step in my own recovery.  I’ve been convinced for years that I’d never be able to re-enter the work force.  I’m too vulnerable, too capricious, too broken.  Well, it’s time to give up that belief.

It’s a slow process, changing firmly held beliefs.  Ask any Catholic-turned-Atheist.  Or a Reformed Republican.  We believe what we believe, and we always find evidence to support our beliefs.  So, I’m on the look-out now for different bread crumbs.  I intend to get that Peer Support Specialist job at my mental health clinic.  I’ll follow up next week, as is appropriate.  I’ll ask the counselors at Mercy to write me some recommendations.  If I ever hope to be free, I need to do this.

In the meantime, I’m in treatment for another week or two at the least.  That’s fine.  I still have a lot to learn.

Seekers Find

Temporal Map

I’m starting to notice a pattern.  Whenever I reach critical mass with my bipolar symptoms and seek additional help, something wonderful happens.  Is it the Universe putting things in balance?  Do I open up to a wider definition of “help”?  Is my distress signal amped to a new frequency?  Or is it that I’m surrounded by more professionals with more resources and more ideas?  Maybe it’s just coincidence.  Or maybe I need to quit over-thinking it.

After being in partial hospitalization this past week, I got a call from my mental health clinic at home.  They will be developing a Peer Support program and asked the Nurse Practitioner and therapists if they had any recommendations for candidates.  My name came up.

So, I met with the team yesterday.  They’re still not sure what to do with Peer Support—the mandates are purposely vague to let providers plug Peer’s into a variety of roles—but they have some ideas.  It was fun to thrash those around with them.  I was honest about being in treatment now and my anxiety about returning to work.  But I think I presented myself well as a professional with skills.  I felt welcomed and respected.  It was a positive experience.

They have a lot of work to do—more candidates to interview, decisions to make.  It will probably be a few weeks before I hear from the committee again.  That’s fine.  The seed is planted.  What I need to do now is concentrate on my own Work—attending the outpatient sessions at Mercy during the week, meeting with the counselor assigned to me there (my buddy, Dan, who got me started on this Peer Support path in the first place), doing the homework assignments, watching my resistance and my anxiety.  A new rhythm will develop.

As a Trekker, geek fan-girl, and spiritual renegade, this convergence feels like the Laws of Attraction and Vibratory Resonance in action.  That comforts me.  But, it doesn’t really matter what’s at work here.  All that matters is that Opportunity Happens when I ask for Help.

Once More Unto the Breach

Angel of Madness

Just a note, really, to let you know that I’m checking myself into psychiatric day-care.  I’ll see my therapist in a little while to verify with her that this is the course to take, but I can feel that I’m beyond toughing it out any further.  She may have some other options for me, though.  I’ll see.

Thank you all for your kindness and support.  I’ll keep you posted.

Cry Out in Your Weakness

Brigade of Saviors

A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.

A courageous man went and rescued the bear.  There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.  Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

And they can’t be bought off.  If you were to ask one of those, “Why did you come so quickly?” he or she would say, “Because I heard your helplessness.”

Where lowland is, that’s where water goes.  All medicine wants is pain to cure.

And don’t ask for just one mercy.  Let them flock in.  Let the sky open under your feet.  Take the cotton out of your ears, the cotton of consolations, so you can hear the sphere-music.

—Rumi

I am in awe and wonder by all of you who flocked in.  The sphere-music is beginning to play again.

You Know It’s Bad When…

CrazyThis bipolar business has gotten to the point where the only thing my therapist can say is, “I’m sorry.”

I stretched out in the hot tub longer than usual yesterday, targeting all the sore places—the fibromyalgia that comes with the really deep depression—and a thought rose.  It’s been surfacing more frequently lately.  If there was a new drug for this, I’d take it.  That’s when I know it’s really bad.  Because I’ve tried all the drugs already.  Help isn’t coming from pharmacology.  But, I still dream of a Magic Pill.

I’ve been watching a lot of The West Wing.  Remember that show?  Martin Sheen as President?  In one episode some of the White House staff miss the motorcade and have to schlepp across Indiana on their own.  They meet a man in a bar who’s trying to make ends meet.  “Life is hard,” he tells them, not knowing who they are, “but it should be.  I don’t mind that.  I just need it to be a tiny bit easier.  Just a little bit.”

Boy, howdy, I get that.

I know living with mental illness is hard.  I don’t expect that to change.  But, if it was just the tiniest bit easier, I think I could…

I don’t know how to end that sentence.

…keep going.

There are days when I give up.  When the first whole thought that comes in the morning is “My life stinks.”  When I spend all my money on junk food and eat for hours at a time.  When the sound of a human voice hurts my skin.  When my thoughts are so ugly and poisonous that I just shut the door on thinking at all.  There are days when the only thing keeping me alive is my responsibility to my cats.  I’ve had a lot of these days lately.

I don’t want to post about this.  I don’t want to load the ether with ichor.  But it’s either that or nothing right now.

Right now.

That seems hopeful.

Treasuring the Rope

Rope 1In a bipolar life, there are days, weeks, sometimes months, where the illness never lets up.  Most of the time, I can ride those long spells.  They’re a fact of my life.  I understand that.  But, I suppose like anyone with a chronic illness, the relentlessness of it sometimes swamps me.  The despair of dealing with the illness combines with the despair it creates.  The extra weight guarantees sinking to the bottom and makes it that much harder to fight my way back to the surface.

I’ve been going through one of those spells—a long season of black.  It’s been a different kind of hard this time without my two water wings of compulsive eating and compulsive spending.  Oh, the compulsions are still there.  I still pace my kitchen like a caged bobcat, opening all the cupboards, the fridge, the pantry, hoping I slipped and brought home something, anything, that will dull the wild scrabbling in my brain.  And even when I’ve budgeted a trip to Des Moines, have cash to pay for a movie and gas, the urge to keep spending is a fish hook under my sternum.  Pulling, pulling always pulling.

This past week my Start With One Serving mantra saved me from getting lost in food, but I still gained a couple of pounds.  Compared to other similar seasons, though, that’s nothing.  And while I’m on the edge of nothing in my checking account, I have enough in my piggy bank at home to get through the month.  Since I paid all my bills, put money in my car fund, and made my planned Visa payment, this, too, is far from the disaster such seasons usually bring.

I’m sure the tension of fighting these old behaviors contributes to the illness itself, but the fight is required if I’m ever to find any freedom.  I know how lucky I am to even have the option of fighting.  I’ve met others like me who don’t, who don’t have an inkling of insight, who are utterly lost in the illness itself.  I understand them.  I am them.  But, I’m also this.

There was one day last week where I thought about surrendering to being lost.  What if I quit fighting and just turned into the crazy cat lady on the corner?  Would that be so bad?  There’s a siren song to mental illness that can be so seductive.  Go to sleep, it says.  I’ll take care of everything.

Emmet AlertBut, after all this time, I recognize that purring song.   It’s part of me, but not all of me.  So, I start looking for joy.  Tiny moments.  Gentle kindnesses.  Things that make me close my eyes in appreciation.  The light on Emmet as he watches the birds.  The silky slide of the water as I swim.  A song on my Pandora station.  A kind note from an almost-friend.  The perfect taste of a vanilla latte with one squirt of raspberry.  The ballet-like fight scenes in Captain America’s new movie.  The wonder of creating an exquisite background paper for a card.  The smell of rain.  A deep breath.  An old feeling of lightness that comes while driving through town in the orange light of dusk.  A chance to listen so someone else in pain.

My friend, Lily, once told me something that has soothed me for years.  Sometimes, all you can do is hang on.  This is true.  Hang on until the season turns.  Hang on because this—whatever it is—won’t last.  Grip the rope and wait.  Most of my life I’ve focused on the tension of waiting, the feeling of not being able to hang on much longer, the sense of fingernails ripping away.  What I’m finding is that it’s even more important to notice how beautiful the rope is and to treasure it.

from my Pandora station

Fighting For My Life

I felt fierce and proud and forever free.I’m in a mood.

I’ll just put that out there as a disclaimer so you know what follows is tainted.

This is a mood that seems to keep coming back.  Well.  That’s bipolar disorder in a nutshell.  So to speak.

I know this mood and I have history if only from how big Bipolar Bad-Assery is in my little Cloud of Topics at right.  I recognize the ferocity and physical stamina.  A terrible intolerance develops.  And then there’s the ice-cold anger.  It started a few days ago with a niggle in the back of my mind.  At odd moments it would pop into full consciousness like Schwarzenegger bursting through a door.

I’m fighting for my life.

It surfaced at TOPS yesterday, and again in the water this morning as I swam my mile.  So I took myself for a drive today to give this moody thought some room.  What I found is that this isn’t the whole thought, just the opener.  In toto, it goes like this.

I’m fighting for my life, so step up or get out of the way.

And suddenly the anger and intolerance make more sense.  Even the extra strength and endurance.  I’m gearing up to go solo again.

This mood, this attitude, runs counter to all the discussions I’ve had with my therapist about relationships.  She’s counseled me about how relationships change, how people come and go out of a life.  She reminds me to take people for what they are and to be accepting of what they can offer.  This is realistic advice.  But, sometimes, I can’t see how it helps me much.

I don’t need coffee dates or tactfully casual conversations as much as I need allies who will get bloody up to the eyebrows with me.  But, finding a loyal berserker isn’t easy.  Or realistic.  Real people have messes of their own to worry about—sick parents, and mortgages, and unemployment.  All that feels like do or die for them, too, so they’re hardly going to save their ammo for me.  Or if they do happen to save a clip, they end up shooting in the wrong direction or even at me.  Friendly fire, of course, but still lethal.

River

Which leads to another conversation with my therapist—my need to make people understand me.  I don’t like being misunderstood.  I don’t like others deciding what’s best for me or making assumptions about me.  But, really, all that is none of my business.  I can’t help what other people think or do.  I can’t stick my hand inside their gray matter and plant the seeds I want growing there.  But, sometimes, they act out of the stories they’ve told themselves about me.  And then they make it my business.  Which I don’t handle with great diplomacy.  I don’t mind so much if you can’t fight alongside me, but get in my way and I might blow your head off.  Nice.  You can see why I might have trouble holding onto friends.

I see what’s happening here.  I’m turning into that Hero person who Stands Alone.  Maybe I’ve always been that person.  It might be one of the reasons I was drawn to comic books as a kid.  As soon as I was able to read, I stole from my brother’s Marvel collection.  Those guys understood.  They fought for their lives every month.  They were me.

winter soldierWhen I went to the new Captain America movie last week and watched Steve Rogers risk everything, the niggle in my head practically shouted.  That’s me!  And then [SPOILER ALERT] when he quit fighting and let Bucky beat him to smithereens, the niggle still shouted.  That’s me, too!  Cap had allies.  He even had a handful of people he trusted.  But, basically, he was alone.  I get that.  And sometimes the hero just gives up.  I get that, too.

That’s as far as this train of thought is going, because to follow it any further would just indulge the mood.  It will shift in a few days and all this Hulk energy will drain.  But, there might be some new questions for my therapist on Monday.  Life and death questions.  Because in the end, I’m still fighting for my life.

 

The Lance

handmade greeting card, collage art

In the past when sorrows, or problems, or ideas were too much for me, I learned to deal with them in a way of my own.  At night when I got to bed I lay on my back and gave to their solution what I knew would be many sleepless hours.  I would let the problem enter me like a lance piercing my solar plexus.  I must be open, utterly open, and as I could stand it the lance went deeper and deeper.

As I accepted each implication, opened to my hurt, my protest, resentment and bewilderment the lance went further in.  Then the same for others involved—that they did, said, felt, thus and so, then why, face why and endure the lance.

As my understanding deepened I could finally accept the truths that lay behind the first truths that had seemed unendurable.  At last, the pain of the lance was not there and I was free.  No, free is not the right word.  My barriers had been lowered and I knew what I had not known before.

from The Measure of My Days by Florida Scott-Maxwell

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