Taking a break from myself for the past week turned out to be an experiment in possibility. Each morning I got up and posed the question “What do I need today?” Most days involved some sort of exercise, often twice in the same day. There was usually a call for delicious, healthy food that I cooked myself. I read a lot, which startled me since reading has been difficult post-ECT. Soy chai from Starbucks seemed to be the treat I craved most. I took several trips to the City without being driven by mania or depression to see what that might be like (delightful, by the way).
What I didn’t do was journal or make art—things I’ve done almost every day since I moved back home six years ago. I only interacted with strangers for the most part. And I put a moratorium on thinking.
Years ago, when I lived in Minneapolis, my friend, Lily, and I would go on “shallow” dates. Both of us tended to over-think and ponder deeply the meaning of Life, so we would pick a fluffy movie and go empty our brains together. Trouble was, we always found The Lesson or A Point to even the most retarded movie. We laughed that we could find the Gift in lint.
I tried something a little different this week. I focused on sensation and intuition. Both of these ways of knowing have become untrustworthy, co-opted by bipolar delusion and compulsion. I learned not to trust myself, what I feel and what I desire, because the illness warps perception. But this set up a constant, internal battlefield. More than just holding tension, or observing my internal workings, I rejected them. Or I labeled all feeling and desire as part of the illness. Either/Or thinking is much easier than trying to tease out the healthy from the unhealthy. It also requires a lot of thought and analysis.
So, this week I practiced not-thinking. I tried to listen to my body for what it wanted. I tried to turn in the direction of beauty and ease like a flower toward the sun (no thinking involved there). And if I felt compulsion push at me, I listened and felt it instead of analyzing and reporting it in my journal.
It was like mud settling in a pond gone still. Defensive and vulnerable when I started the week, I felt my body soften and my heart take a deep breath. My aversion to people thinned and relaxed. Issues shifted from vague discomfort to solid little pebbles with much less mass than I expected. Pathways cleared.
My vacation contained good and bad days (or in my new vernacular, sunny and stormy mental weather), so I was able to practice not-thinking on my rapid cycling as well. I found much comfort in the mantra “Don’t think, just feel.”
So, as I come back to the people and responsibilities in my life today, I feel refreshed and ready. I have some changes to make and more work to do. But I’ll try to keep it shallow.