Weirdly Good

hand-made cards, collage art

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It’s been a weird few days.  Up is down.  Left is right.  I’ve given up on a definition of reality for now.

My friends who teach the deep water aerobics class bent over backwards to adjust the workout for me.  I was overwhelmed by their caring and determination to keep me in the class.  I feel like Sally Field at the Oscars.  “They like me!  They really like me!”  A week that started out miserable and discombobulated suddenly smoothed out.

I caught a 24-hour flu bug on top of my bipolar dive into depression, spiked a fever, lost my appetite (miraculous), downed Advil and lots of green tea.  Now I feel fine.  Wha??

Meghan GilletteMy beautiful and brilliant niece is a poor PhD student living in tiny quarters with three cats.  Her vet said the cramped space was stressing her male kitty and causing urinary tract infections.  So, Meg got Feliway, a diffuser that emits Momma Cat pheromones which calms and relaxes kitties.  She recommended Feliway to me when I told her I was worried my also-teeny apartment was making my cats stir-crazy.

Now, I’ve had Henry and Emmett for seven years.  In all that time, Henry has been companionable, but not overly affectionate.  He sleeps next to me in bed and will occasionally allow me to pick him up, but anything more over than that is frowned upon.  (And those of you with cats know what that frown is like.)  He has never sat in my lap or on my legs.  The only time he really touches my body is when he thunders over the top of me in the middle of the night during a Martian fit (He sees invisible Martians and attacks them like a good guard cat should).

HenryTwo hours after plugging in my Feliway diffuser, Henry crawled onto my lap and fell asleep.  I was so shocked I started to cry.  Then, when I went to the bathroom he didn’t follow me.  Since moving into the apartment, Henry has followed me everywhere. Toilet time is family time.

To be fair, Emmett is still skittish and squirrelly, but he keeps sniffing the air.  He knows something new and delicious is wafting through our home.  I can’t wait to see what happens, or doesn’t happen next.

At the moment, my mind is a quiet fog—like chenille dryer lint.  I took a shower to get rid of flu-hair and am about to walk uptown to get my take-out order of vegetable fried rice.  Life is weirdly good.

Scooping the Loop in Bipolar Town

hand-made cards, collage art

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. —Lao Tzu

= = =

Change is hard for me.  I guess it’s hard for most people.  We get comfortable in our routines, settle in and snooze.  Life rolls along in a predictable way that’s soothing and reliable.

Change requires attention, energy, planning, and action.  It shakes us up and makes us re-evaluate everything we’ve taken for granted.  It knocks us out of that fuzzy comfort zone.  Sometimes it’s painful—letting go of ideas, people, places, things we hold dear.  Sometimes it rocks us to the core.

Part of my bipolarness is the need for routine—a generally consistent schedule to my day or week.  My routine comforts me.  It soothes the anxiety and agitation that are constant companions.  It gives me a way to move through the day when that seems impossible.

Also, my routine helps me maintain my priorities and meet my goals.  When the mood swings start looping one after another, it’s hard to move forward.  Routine is like a light over a familiar off-ramp that I can’t see in the dark.  Instead of driving around and around on the Rapid Cycling clover leaf—not able to focus, not able to make a choice about what to do—I can maneuver my car to that off ramp with my routine’s help.  I can keep moving forward, however slowly.

Big changes to my routine can trigger a blow-up of my symptoms.  And, since nothing stays the same except change, I’m discovering I need a strategy to manage those times.

Last week I had to quit my beloved deep water aerobics class.  The routine had changed over the summer from mostly cardio and core work to more arm exercises.  Too much of that makes my bum shoulder worse, so I tried to adjust my workout, ask for help, do my own thing.  But I wasn’t getting the workout my brain needs, so today I went back to the shallow water classes.

I’ve made good friends in the deep water class.  We created a tight community that supported each other.  But I know how important a hard workout is to my brain chemistry and to my over all health.  The decision was excruciating.  Not just because of what I had to give up in the class, but because it mucked up my routine.

Add to that my homelessness in terms of a coffee shop/writing aerie, my conversion to a vegan diet, and developing several new friendships and my routine is pretty much shot to hell.  I know in time I’ll pull together a new structure, but right now I’m free-falling.  And the anxiety that produces keeps me from rational thought.

All I can think of to do today is seek comfort—not the bipolar versions of comfort which are all obsessive-compulsive (though those are really calling to me), but something more useful, healthy and safe.  And if I can’t do that, then maybe I can aim for the least amount of harm in my compulsive behavior.  I’m not sure I can even do that.

I have to hold Lao Tzu’s words as a mantra today.  Let reality be reality.  Let this illness be what it is.  Flow with the changes without resistance.  Breathe.  Eventually, I’ll start to slow down.  Eventually, a new off-ramp will show up with a light bright enough to steer by.  Hold that wheel lightly.  Observe.  Embrace the new road coming—a new life is on the other side.

Mental Meltdown of the Pneumonia Mind

collage art, hand-made cards

People said I’d go stir-crazy.  Being sick and incapacitated for weeks will mess with your head, they said.

Oh, my.

I’ve officially rounded the bend.  I’ve spent all the money I have left for September, mostly on food and DVDs, which destroyed months of work at losing weight.  I charged up my credit card so that I could put storage shelves in my bathroom—a project on Saturday that left me exhausted and overrun by my own mania.  I feel humiliated, and desperate, and absolutely out of control.

I’ve tried several ways to slow the train down—walking around the track at the Y, walking outside, napping.  They help in the moment, but as soon as I stop moving or wake up, the frantic scrabbling in my brain starts up again.  Every day I start out vowing to “do it different,”  to shroud my TV and do something else.  And every day I end up too tired, too bored, too lonely, too sick.

What I’m hanging onto at this point is that my body is starting to recover.  The lungs are clearing.  The voice is coming back.  I will return to my water aerobics class this morning to splash around if nothing else.  And as my strength returns, I can shift back into my routine, which will give my bipolar claws something else to grab onto.

It’s not like this is new material.  The compulsions, the frantic behavior, the way this illness blows up my life are all reruns of my personal sitcom.  It’s just that adding physical illness squeezes all margins out of the script.  The stress, the disruption of routine, the discomfort run the lines off the page.  I’m not making much sense.

But, there’s a balm in being able to admit the insanity.  Confession always starts a healing.  Lack of insight and secretiveness are part of this illness, so naming names is a good sign.  I’ll hang onto that today.

Rising from the Dead

A quiver.  A twitch.  A rheumy eye opens.

It lives!

It was time to make an attempt.  Give it a go, as our friends across the pond might say.  I managed to creep around the track at the Y for a half hour, flop-sweat and lungers not withstanding, then maintained an upright position at Haven long enough to write in my journal, sip a latte, and start reading the next bipolar memoir on my list.  I’m declaring the day a success.

Coming back from being sick resembles coming back from a bipolar episode in that much gets dropped, tabled or neglected.  Discipline sags. Housekeeping, in both figurative and literal terms, hops out the window.  With physical illness, there’s just more used Kleenex scattered in the drifts of cat hair.

I’ve never been a good judge of my own physical stamina, never recognized the magic margin between sick and well where one starts adding instead of subtracting.  Like most people, I went back to work too soon, tried to do too much too fast, and often got sick again.  But unworthiness, fostered by my bipolar disorder, also drove me to prove myself.  I wore the raspy voice and barking cough to work with pride.  I might still be sick, but I’d put in my eight hours.  And, somehow, that made me worthy.

Without the pressure of a job rushing me, I feel like I can finally hear my body telling me what to do.  It felt good to walk on the track this morning, and it felt right to stop when I did.  I enjoyed sitting at my table at Haven, and I was ready to come home and rest afterward.

Those of us with BP spend so much time in our heads, analyzing and monitoring our mental and emotional status, that we rarely pay attention to the body.  It’s just a sack of meat that carries our precious mind from place to place.  But to really manage our mental health we have to listen to our bodies.  We have to respect them, use them wisely, and make peace with their limitations.  It’s another form of balance, which is a strange and foreign word for those of us with mood disorders.  But, since balance is my aim, I’m willing to speak whatever language it takes.

So, tomorrow I will rise again and give it a go—if that’s what my body tells me to do.

Pendulum Swing

collage art, hand-made greeting cardToday the bipolar pendulum swings deep into depression.  The drive to sleep through it, to eat through it, pulls me like beefy fists wrapped around my shirt with another pushing me from behind.  I can’t quite stay on my feet.

But between the muggings, I keep breathing as mindfully as I’m able.  I keep walking, placing one foot intentionally before the other.  I look in the mirror and practice smiling.  I tally what I eat.  I move my limbs, so wooden, through the water in Penny’s pool.  I notice how I consider Penny as a safe haven for my cats should I chose to leave them behind, and acknowledge the death thoughts as part of the pendulum swing.  A swish of air is all.

No movies to escape to today, so I must be creative in my distraction when creativity is impossible.  I will plug in my ear buds and walk.  Then, ride my friends’ stationary bike.  Then, walk some more.  Because I can do this without thinking about it too much.  Because the exercise will make me feel better.

And the pendulum swings.

The Plan

collage art, greeting cardsOur YWCA is closed this week for its annual scrub and tune-up.  This year they’re refinishing all the pools, so we won’t be back in the water until August 20.  Since I get a little squirrelly on weekends when I don’t have my water aerobics class, a whole week without water or my other exercise options carries the potential for what my shrink calls “destabilization.”  After stumbling though this for a few years, I finally figured out that I need to put an alternate exercise plan in place in order to come out the other side without going completely yampy.  Like the Russians in Hunt for Red October, I always need a plan.

ω ω ω

This year my friend, Penny, generously offered me the use of her condo’s pool.  I’m also hitting Tom and Cheryl’s stationary bike in the evenings, setting up “walking dates” with other friends, and doing solo walks as long as my feet hold out.  I’m much more comfortable in the water than on land—my feet and joints get too sore pounding the pavement, and I have a congenital twist in one leg that generates monster blisters no matter what kind of shoes I wear.  But, as long as I can give myself a few days between walks, I’m good.

So much in my life has shifted since last summer’s break from the Y.  This year I’m deeply committed to getting the exercise my brain and body have grown used to and need along with continuing my exploration of the vegan way of life.  Another year of living medication-free and developing strategies for managing my bipolar disorder roots me in my Bipolar Bad-Ass way of life.  As a reminder this week, I added another mantra to my Inspiration Door.  The illness rises and falls, but my determination to live well remains constant.

Hunt for Red October, Sean ConneryI think even Sean Connery would approve.

A Cautious Step

Collage art, greeting card artA cautious optimism seems to be creeping up on me.  The last couple of days moved through with less frenetic, spastic energy; less explosive mood changes; more moments of quiet joy; more tolerance.  It’s too early to tell if this is a shift out of the mixed state rapid cycling I’ve been experiencing, or just another variation of it.  When all the bipolar symptoms get thrown in a bag and shaken up, moments of relief are bound to stick together once in a while, too.  So, the practice is not to name it, not to grasp it, but simply Observe.  And then take appropriate action.

“Appropriate” is a moving target, just like my symptoms.  What I’m capable of doing changes with each shift.  So, just when I sit down to make cards, I’m suddenly unable to tolerate being in my apartment.  Or when the urge to eat bends me over the bakery goods at Panera, I feel the compulsion vanish in an instant.  I guess it’s not surprising that I’m experiencing a lot of vertigo.  These jumps from one state to another to something combined make me a little loopy.  Lots of starting and stopping.  Lots of whipping around and muttering, “What?”

Even in this weird, stuttering place a few constants remain.  I can always exercise.  The pain that comes with the depressive symptoms may make weight-baring exercise more difficult, but there’s always water and my new friend, the recumbent bike.  And there’s always writing.  No matter how crazy I get, I can always write. It may be crap, but I’ve learned that crappy writing is a gift.  It starts the trek to the real story.  A crappy first draft or hideous turn of phrase marks where the story isn’t.  It’s a pushpin in a map.  With enough pushpins, I can see just where the path leads.  Even if I’m crazy, I can still read a map.

Exercise and writing give me a little foundation.  Whatever else I try to do with my day starts and ends there.  So, today I’ll stand on my foundation and cautiously pick up my Bad-Ass Training, knowing I may have to drop it if this moment of relief ends.  I’ll check to see where I’m leaking energy or money.  I’ll reach out to my support network.  I’ll take care of chores that have been abandoned.  I’ll shroud my TV.  I’ll do what I can in each moment to get ready for that moment to shift.

And while I’m getting ready, I’ll listen to my music.  Because that makes everything easier—like Eurythmics’ Miracle of Love.

13 Miracle Of Love

Holiday Survival Tactics

I don’t like holidays.

I would rather scratch them all from my calendar.  I understand that the weary working need and savor this break, but they only make me sick.  The YMCA closes, my coffee shops close, the folks I interact with on a daily basis trot off to be with their families or throw parties—all of which blasts apart my routine.  Without my routine, I am a Bipolar Time Bomb with a very short fuse.

Since I was already in a heightened state of stress going into the holiday, I knew I needed some serious backup planning to keep from wigging out completely.  I planned to walk the neighborhood to make up for my missed aquatics classes.  Yesterday’s temperature was supposed to top out over 100 degrees, so I took my walk at 4:00 AM.  I was awake anyway with a yammering cross-fire of spiky thoughts (courtesy of the Bipolar Agitation Fairy), so why not use the time, right?

I decided to allow myself some TV, but the only thing on was Magic City, a Starz series about hotels and the mob in 1959—sort of like Mad Men with dead bodies.  I got hooked immediately and had to watch six episodes in a row until I couldn’t take any more depravity or naked women.  More yammering, only now it’s images of icky, greasy mobsters doing icky things.  Ick.

The urge to bolt seized me, and all I could think of was to go to a movie.  That I’d already seen.  Which was fine.  Air conditioning and popcorn with a little distraction from the yammerers.  But after the movie I was right back where I started.  I made birthday cards for a while, cooked some supper, worked three crossword puzzles.  I tried to soothe my traumatized cats when the fireworks started up, but they would have none of that.  They planted themselves under my bed and stayed there.

When I finally crawled into bed myself, all I sent up a little prayer of thanks.  I made it through another holiday.  Sort of.

Moving On

After pulling out my Tai Chi DVD and working through the postures for several days, I’ve decided to move on.  Problem is, I don’t remember the instruction that went with the movements.  Thanks to ECT, that part of my memory is gone.  What I do remember about my Tai Chi class was that there was a lot to remember when doing the postures—stance, flow, follow-through, breathing, visualization.  And that’s just the stuff I remember about the stuff I’ve forgotten.

The demonstrator on the DVD (the director of the school I attended) moves through the postures quickly and turns her back to the camera for a long stretch.  So, not only can I not remember what to do, I can’t even see what to do.

I gave it a shot.  I think I’ll do Zumba instead.

Whittling

There are days when it seems that everything I do is aimed at shoring up my defenses.  I exercise to regulate my brain chemistry and strengthen my body.  I journal to catch any distorted thinking and plan my day to avoid impulse eating/spending/reacting.  I work on a short story or a longer fictional piece to bleed out the fantasy thinking that collects like rain water in my barrel.  I practice Tai Chi as an exercise in Will, proving to myself that I can do things that are uncomfortable or difficult.

An underlying tension runs through all this doing, a sense of glancing over my shoulder toward the horizon.  Something’s coming.  Then, I shake it off and get back to it.

I’m sure much of this anticipatory dread comes from making so many changes in my lifestyle.  Change shakes everything up—physically, mentally, emotionally.  There’s no part of us that really likes it.  And those parts will fight to return to the status quo.  Dr. Phil calls this instinctual drift—the tendency for all organisms to revert back to their natural or learned tendencies.  It’s why all those “tame” wild animals keep mauling their owners.  It’s why lost weight always finds its way back.  Deeply ingrained patterns are just that—carved deep—and it will take more than a couple of weeks of tap dancing around them to make a difference.

The patterns that grew up around being bipolar kept me alive.  Maladaptive and unhealthy though they were, they became the only way to survive in my world.  Some days it feels like I’m jumping out of my lifeboat into shark infested water.  Ooo, and I hate sharks.

But, I have a precedent.  I have made a huge change before and incorporated it into my life.  I went from never exercising to working out at the Y five days a week.  Every week.  There’s no resistance to it any more.  It is simply part of my life.  So, I know change is possible for me.  It takes vigilance.  It takes making the choice every day, several times a day.  It takes carving out a new pattern one splinter at a time until that is the new learned response.

Every evening that I swim with my friend in her pool instead of watch TV is a splinter.  Every time I notice my thoughts turning to food and close the book I’m reading is a splinter.  Every time I walk uptown instead of getting into my truck is a splinter.  They all feel unnatural and forced.  My body twitches and there are parts of me that feel like I’m dying.  Sharks!

Sometimes I jump back in the boat, return to the comforting and numbing old ways.  But, the sharks are just a dream.  There is no water.  So I climb out of the rotten boat and start again.

I am shoring up my defenses—against my old patterns, coping skills that don’t serve me anymore.  What’s coming over the horizon is just a scared little girl flailing against pain and darkness.

Come here, darling.  Let’s whittle together.

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