This past week has been a long, slow slide out of mental wellness.  It seemed like my world sprang a leak, and the bright colors I enjoyed most of the summer gradually bled out.  Then, a needling apprehension crept in under my skin.  Overnight, Life became worrisome and difficult again.

I knew the respite wouldn’t last.  I knew the tide would turn and the next bipolar episode was inevitable.  What surprised me was that I forgot how to tread water when the flood came in.  I found myself flailing, overwhelmed by the increasing pain.  For 50 days I had my old brain back, and suddenly it was hijacked again.  The frantic, querulous voice in my head belonged to someone else.  The impulse to kill the pain grabbed me like a powerful undertow and dragged me back into compulsive eating and spending.  The smart, savvy Bipolar Badass was gone, and in her place bobbed a waterlogged poppet.

I can’t believe what a huge effort it took to fight my way back to the surface—how much effort it still is taking.  The Y was closed this week for its annual maintenance, which destroyed my routine.  I had to get creative about exercise.  I tried walking around the neighborhood, but the resulting pain (fibromyalgia + arthritis in the feet + obesity) left me hobbling and unable to sleep.  I went to the Aquatic Center (swimming pool, water slide, etc.) where they have a Lazy River—a waist-high channel with a current for tubing.  Forty-five minutes before the Center opens, they let people come in to water-walk in the Lazy River.  I did that the last couple of days and can feel my aches and pains receding.  The lap pool at the Y will be open again today, and the aerobic classes will start on Monday, so I can get back on schedule.

I spent $100 that I don’t have.  Part of it went on my credit card, but most came out of my checking account.  Luckily, the amount is manageable.  I still follow the practice of taking an allowance each week from my checking account.  For the rest of the month, I’ll just take less, which means no money for gas, or lattes, or a haircut and spending the barest minimum on groceries.  It’s doable.  I don’t need to go anywhere, I’m trying to cut down on coffee, and I can be shaggy for a couple of weeks.  And I’ve got enough turkey hot dogs and frozen entrees to last with a modest supplement of fresh produce.  I’m good.

The credit card purchase was a night of fine dining at the steakhouse down the street.  All compulsions merged that night—the drive to bury my growing mental discomfort with food and spending whatever it took to make it happen.  That was the turning point for me.  I waddled out of Jax’s, sat in my truck, and just stopped.  Even I could see I was out of control.

I took a couple of deep breaths and started looking.  I reminded myself that the anxiety, the nattering thoughts, the sadness were chemical reactions, not me.  I reminded myself that the only way through this episode was to relax into it, accept it, and use the tools that I have.  I reminded myself that I wanted to try something different with the compulsions—to use meditation and awareness of them in my body.  Was I willing to try that?  Could I gather enough self-awareness to even attempt it?

This is not the worst episode I’ve ever had—not by a long shot.  But, I really let my guard down.  Over that long, lovely stable period, I unbuckled my gun belt, unstrapped my sword, and emptied my pockets of grenades.  The Observer grew lazy sifting through normal, everyday reactions and bursts of ego.  It was so nice to relax—really relax—but I may have done myself a disservice by taking all the guards from their posts.

Now I know I need to keep a sentry on duty, even in the best of times.  I need the warning cry, the time to gather the troops and check the ammo.  Because I forget each state of my bipolar illness when I’m not in that state, I need checklists posted where I can see them.  Like a field guide, I need to use them to remind myself of the shape of the enemy’s tracks and the lay of the land ahead.

I’m back today. Frosty.  Armed.  That 50 day vacation is just a picture in my scrapbook.  What’s important is the engagement ahead.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pegoleg
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 09:58:45

    Oh Sandy, sorry the vacation couldn’t last. I’m glad you’re finding your footing again. This is a great collage to describe your state of mind. Lock and load, baby. Lock and load.


  2. Kathryn McCullough
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 19:47:38

    Hang in there, my friend. I remember having had several good years, when in January of 2010 I was suddenly overwhelmed by a mixed state that absolutely terrified me. We were living in Vietnam, and I thought I was going to go stark raving mad.
    I know how you feel. You are in my thoughts and prayers, dear Sandy!


  3. ManicMuses
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 05:29:04

    You have such an eloquent way of describing a painful situation. I’m a few days behind with reading this post, so I hope you were able to get back into your routine and are on the mend now. Hang in there!


  4. ManicMuses
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 08:57:37

    I’ve been writing and taking lots of walks to help kick my peanut butter M&Ms habit 🙂 Also trying to enjoy the last of the summer days. Did you get back to the Y this week?


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 25, 2011 @ 09:02:34

      Yes. I finally caved in and started setting my alarm so I can get to the 6:00 water class on time, but I’m still puttering around too long and getting there late. This will even out once the darn agitation lets go.


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