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

Chop Sticks

Uncover in the Mess

I am playing the violin, that’s all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing.  You just practice every day.—Itzhak Perlman

Changing behavior.  That’s the Work in front of me these days.  How do I pull the power plug from my life-long companion, Compulsive Eating and her little sister Compulsive Spending?  How do I change personally destructive behaviors that have actually served me by easing the emotional turbulence of bipolar disorder?

The short answer is slowly.  With lots of help from my therapist.

It’s a painful process, waking up.  And that’s basically what’s called for in changing behavior.  The whole point of compulsive eating and spending is to go to sleep, to numb the pain and shut down the barbed, twisted thinking.  Nothing hurts when you’re unconscious.  But, nothing changes, either.

I’ve always believed the path to change and to a healthier life was through mindfulness.  I’ve tried my best to raise my consciousness and to pay attention.  But these two compulsive behaviors have been stronger than me for a long time.  I knew I needed help, and more than what I found in meditation and self-help books.  Once my therapist and I decided to focus our attention here, I felt real hope for the first time.

Scales and FingeringWe work in baby steps, and in a spirit of Practice.  It’s a lot like when I learned to play the piano.  I do my drills every day.  I play my simple pieces, missing notes and flubbing the rhythm.  I get frustrated and have little tantrums.  I rebel and skip practice, then have to spend extra time at the keyboard the next day.

We watch and pay attention to what happens.  My moods flop around and my thinking strangles itself in convoluted knots.  Then, that all evens out for a day or two before starting in again.  It’s hard to choose to stay awake through all of it.  It’s painful.  It’s humiliating.  It’s ugly.  Megan reminds me that this is practice.  Every small success is just that.  And every fall back into old behavior is just that.  Perfection and failure are not words we use.

What seems to help is to stay busy with projects, especially creative work.  I’ve long understood the connection between watching TV and overeating, so anything that can keep me away from that is helpful.  Playing with my junk and pretties fosters joy and a sense of mastery.  I can use a little of that right now.

To point me in a positive direction, I decided to make something out of gratitude.  And what do I have the hardest time being grateful for?  People.  What better target for this project than the people who brighten my days with small gifts of kindness—the baristas at my Starbucks, the grill cook at the cafe who makes my toast, the group at my UU fellowship who sponsored my Peer Support training, the friends who consistently schedule time to be with me, the virtual friends who lift me with their words and images, the actors and actresses who sit in the dark with me when I’m at my worst.

Blessing CardI sat at my table, creating little Blessing cards, holding each face in my mind, generating positive juju.  I decided to purposely use up a lot of my favorite materials—an antique German prayer book, purple card stock and ribbon that are no longer available,  fibers from a company that went out of business.  I used my favorite things to prove to myself that I have all I need.  Plenty and more.

I ended up making more cards than I needed.  I could have sent them to a lot more people—the folks on the fringes of my life—but I decided to trust my first take on the purpose of this project.  To keep it simple and immediate.  So, I put the rest of the cards in my Etsy shop.  Maybe someone else can use them.

And while I worked on this project, I kept my budget and lost 7 pounds.

Okay.  That’s lovely.  Now.  Back to the keyboard.

 

Mundane is a Good Thing

I Was BoredNo big bucket of brain cheese to dish out, no blast of “Ah Ha!” light to blind the unsuspecting, no tortuous hobgoblins to exorcise.  Nope.  It’s just me, moving through my days.  There’s still mood swings, and anxiety, and bipolar weirdness, but that’s my normal.  I swim, chat up the Starbucks gals, and crawl a bit further on Technical Consultant.  I eat one serving at a time (consecutively), talk to my cats, and do a little art.  Sometimes I share a meal with a friend.  Sometimes I walk to the library.  Today, I washed out the litter boxes.

Very boring.

It’s heaven.

Just a Reminder

Psycho-babble

Image

Making It Real

handmade greeting card, collage artBack in October when I took the first week of Peer Support training, I applied to my sister’s P.E.O. chapter for financial assistance.  The ladies who interviewed me were lovely—kind, supportive, sure that the Iowa board of directors of their group would approve my request.  One of them had even read this blog.

It was a nice way to spend a morning, but I didn’t set my hopes too high.  I’d been negotiating philanthropy and human services long enough to know my chances of being disqualified for one reason or another were more likely than not.  The ladies said it would be after the first of the year before a decision would be made.  Okay.

After my wake-up call in January about my growing debt, it was hard not to hope for reprieve.  My sister called to say something had gone wrong with the application and had to be done over.  Okay.  A few weeks ago, she called again to ask questions that I’d addressed in my initial letter.  Okay.

I thought I was staying relatively detached.  There might be a slim chance out there in the ethers, but I needed to concentrate on the Work in front of me—finding the strength to stick to my budget without the stress triggering one more hospitalization.

And that’s really the bottom line for me.  How much can I push against the illness without blowing up?  How long can I keep with this budget and work on my compulsive eating?  I’ve never thought in terms of time.  There’s no benefit to that, is there?  There’s just today, doing the best I can, practicing my Start with One Serving mantra and doing everything on the cheap.  I know the intensity of this time is temporary, but I can’t focus on an end date when I don’t know where it is.

This week I received a letter from the P.E.O. board.  They will be sending me about half the money I asked for.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for it, grateful for anything, and glad the waiting is over.  But no immediate reprieve is coming.  Instead I can now plot out an end date to the extreme financial squeeze.  July.

That doesn’t seem like much.  Four months.  But when I look at the two months I’ve already spent doing this hard work, experiencing the worst of my bipolar symptoms with just my therapist standing fast beside me, I can’t comprehend four months.  I feel myself contract even more, hardening to anything but The Work.

This isn’t good.  Becoming rigid like this invites a kind of shattering that takes a long time to heal.  I need to let in some softness, find a way to play and laugh, figure out a way to be with people that doesn’t end in rage and resentment.  (Ah. I think we’ve hit on the agenda for my next therapy session.)

Because this shit is real now.  I’m not spot-training anymore, I’m going the distance to an actual finish line.  Can I pace myself and push my limits at the same time?  Am I ready to be a bipolar Olympian?

laurel leaf crownReady the laurel leaves, boys.  I’ll see you in four months.

Happy Irish Day

Celebrate being Irish!  (not St. Patrick—he was a dick.)

Here’s Glen Hansard, one of my favorite Irish singers.

And a link to my Pinterest Board “The Old Country.”

I’m proud my ancestors journeyed from County Cork.  Researchers say an inordinate number of immigrants were bipolar—it took grandiose self-confidence and manic energy to leave home and jump into the Void.

Thanks, great-great grand-da.

Some day I’ll go back and tip a pint to ye.

Radio Station KFKD

handmade greeting card, collage art, HitchcockI had a difficult day yesterday.

The floor fell out of my little stable platform and the bipolar elevator rocketed into the basement.  Wham!  Just like that, in the middle of doing laps at the pool, I turned my head for air and nearly choked on a sob.  I had to stop and clear my goggles before I could go on.

It happens like that sometimes.  With rapid cycling, a person never knows how the next episode will present itself.  I’m always surprised.

I’m living an antithetical life, the twist in my brain said.  All my energy is focused on negativity—not doing things instead of living and doing.  What kind of a shit-hole existence is this?

I couldn’t shake this nihilistic mindset.  I spent most of the day in bed.

Change is hard for anyone.  Geneen Roth in her book Women, Food and God says this about change:

The biggest obstacle to any kind of transformation is the voice that tells you it’s impossible.  It says:  You’ve always been like this, you’ll always be like this, what’s the point.  No one ever really changes.  Might as well eat [or spend money, or do whatever it is you're trying to change].  By the way, have you taken a look at your arms recently?   And excuse me, did you forget to put on makeup or is that what you look like when it’s already on?  Why do you even bother?  And did you just say what I think you said to your boss?  Who are you, Queen of the Universe?  How many times do you have to fall flat on your face before you learn to keep your mouth shut?

Anne Lamott calls it Radio Station KFKD.  [Geneen Roth] calls it The Voice…. The Voice feels and sounds so much like you that you believe it is you.  You think you are telling yourself the truth.

RadioAnd if Radio KFKD is loud for neuro-normals, imagine how loud it gets for us neuro-diverse folk as we try to address compulsive behavior or add healthier activities into our routine.  Even when I recognize the propaganda coming across those air waves as doo-doo, that doesn’t stop the transmission.  When I’m brain-sick, more transcievers pop out of my mental landscape and boost the signal.  The genius of propaganda is that even when it’s identified, it can still sniff out the tiniest crack and infiltrate like smoke.  Or DDT.  And like Geneen Roth said, pretty soon I think I’m telling myself the truth.

I still get suckered.  That’s part of mental illness.  But, I’ve also developed a pretty good doo-doo filter.  It might take a while to sift out the choicer pellets, but eventually they show themselves for what they are.

Toward evening, the lead weight of the depression lifted enough for me to realize that Radio KFKD had taken over my thinking.  I am not spending all my time not eating.  I’m working on a practice my therapist gave me for increasing mindfulness.  The mantra is Start with One Serving.  Prepare one serving.  Enjoy one serving.  If I want more, I can have it.  But, again, just one serving.  This makes me pause.  It makes me wake up a little from my normal food-haze.  Pausing and waking up are the only ways I’m ever going to change this behavior.  And it’s hard.

I’m not using all my energy to not spend money.  I am paying off my debts.  This is a fine and responsible goal.  I have less discretionary funds now in order to reach that goal, but eventually those debts will be gone.  I will have done something amazing, and new, and difficult.  And then I’ll have a little more money to work with again.

I had a difficult day yesterday.  But just as fast as the elevator plummeted, it rose.  That’s also the deal with rapid cycling—Radio KFKD switches off like magic sometimes.  I was back in the pool this morning, doing my laps.  And I didn’t need to clear my goggles once.

Wait! What?

Refined Bad Ass, Patrick Stewart, handmade greeting card, collage artI just realized that what I do every day is not spend money and not eat.  All my attention is focused on these anti-compulsions.  Awesome!  I’m so completely Bad-Ass now I can hardly stand myself!

Thaw

Promise of SpringThere’s melt in the streets.  And a strange sound over my head—water drizzling down from the eaves into the downspouts.  Winter is letting up—at least it’s affording us a breather.  A collective sigh rises up from the whole town.  Folks hunched over their coffee cups at the café sit up a little straighter.  Smiles come a little easier to winter-tired faces.

My own internal winter is letting up as well.

Wednesday I hit a wall of despair.  Swimming my laps in the pool, I knew I couldn’t go back to my apartment for one more day of fighting myself and losing.  I gave my self permission to go to Des Moines.  After six weeks of frugal living, I allowed a therapeutic splurge.

The movie was awful, but the actual movie is never the point.  It’s the going.  It’s the ritual of driving through Starbucks, going into Panera for my bagel, sitting in the huge, empty food court and writing in my journal with earbuds firmly in place.  It’s the familiar rite of ticket, popcorn, and finding the perfect seat.  It’s making a nest and soaking in the previews—all those good movies coming.  The rhythm of ritual is comfort and safety.  It’s my rosary with a different kind of bead.

Afterward I went to Barnes and Noble to read magazines and fell asleep in the big easy chair.  So tired.  Worn through by this long depression.  Then, meditation with my friends, who were so glad to see me after six weeks away.  And in our quiet conversation, I felt the melt begin.  A subtle shift of temperature.  A warming of my mental air.  I thought the day and my friends might have just cheered me a little—I’ve been fooled by false springs before.  But, the thaw seems to be holding.

I can feel my brain recalibrating and leavening as the mental ice floes break apart.  It’s a little easier to do what I want instead of being driven by compulsion.  There’s a suggestion of joy, like the tremor of seeds under the frozen earth.  And it’s enough.  Just knowing winter doesn’t last forever.  It’s enough.

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