The Titanic Had a Plan, Too

Planning is part of my DNA.  Knowing a plan is just the tip of an iceberg was something I had to learn.

As I waited this past winter to move from Iowa to Oklahoma, I tried to imagine what difficulties might be in store.  I knew leaving my therapist and managing without one for a while (I finally meet her this week) meant working as many Tools as I could, including complete acceptance of where ever I landed on the bipolar scale each day.  I expected leaving my friends and UU church community might stir up some ancient loneliness and tendencies to isolate.  I imagined the culture of the Plains might take some getting used to, or that the food might be a little different.  I wondered if living closer to family would challenge my communication skills, my boundaries or shake up what I’ve come to consider my limitations.

What never even crossed my mind was the weather.

I knew it got hot here in the summer, but I was not ready for 95 degrees and 96% humidity the first week of May.

It stupefied me.  The humidity seeped into the crevices of my skull and expanded like Gorilla Glue.

My nephew, the rancher, gave me lots of good advice:  Get any running around done in the morning, then high-tail it home to air conditioning for the rest of the day.  I told him I must be losing weight with all the puddles of sweat in my shoes and no appetite.  He said he thought the same thing when he moved here back in his college days, but it never did work that way.

Well, shoot.

Now, Iowa can be hot and humid.  In fact, my friends tell me it is right now.  But, I don’t ever remember opening my front door at 7:00 in the morning and walking into a swampy cement wall.  It takes a moment or two to find the air and pull it into my lungs.  I feel like Ed Harris in The Abyss.

I can’t tell if my depression is worse because of the weather, or if it’s the normal run of my rapid cycling doing its thing.  I know I’m bored with my own whingeing and try to keep my mouth shut.  I must say it does help to hear locals complain and that the weather service issued a heat advisory yesterday.  It’s not just me, then, being a weenie.

Knowing my A/C will be on until October makes me worry about my expanding carbon footprint.  To that end, I’m determined to recycle and to look at other ways I can assuage my environmental guilt.

I know.  I’ll make a plan.  That will solve everything.

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Countdown to Muskogee. . . 11

Tomorrow is the last day of my membership at the Y.  This has been another place of deep learning and deeper acceptance.  Here, I began to move for the sake of my brain and to worry less about the shape of my body.  Here, I watched my tolerance for noise, people, inconvenience and routine rise and fall with my symptoms.  Here, I experienced joy again after a long siege of unhappiness as the water buoyed me up.  

I grew stronger.

I am stronger.

 

Pass the Xanax

Direct correlation:  The more real moving to Oklahoma becomes, the higher my anxiety and general state of mania.

This is no big surprise, just annoying.

I found out the movers will pack everything (I don’t even have to empty out my drawers), get it on a truck and be on the road in just a few hours.  Shane, the boss, kept saying, “You don’t have much.  Shouldn’t take more than an hour to pack.”  The benefits of minimal living.

With that weight off my sizzling brain, I gave my sister the green light to start our apartment search in earnest.  My nephew had already alerted her to a townhouse (I’m so verklempt that he’s involved), that turned out to be everything I want and more for a very reasonable rent price.  Still three bedrooms and two baths seems HUGE, so sissy and her realtor friend will look at a few more places next week for due diligence, but I’m guessing it will be townhouse living for me.

Now, all I have to do is manage my heebie jeebies and prepare for my trip to Taos where I’ll spend a week with my favorite spiritual artist, Orly Avirneri, and a conclave of painty-fingered friends.  Part of doing both tasks has been making a journal for the workshop.  I found these disemboweled book covers at an antique mall a while back, intending them for just this purpose, so it felt good to put a couple to use (and focus my scattered attention).  I’m out of waxed thread, though, so have to wait for that order to come before I can bind the signatures in place.

I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy my magazines, which is my GoTo for mind balm.  So, I’m just doodling in my new journal, which seems to be doing the trick—at least for now.  I’ll have to take my gimpy knee and hit the pool this weekend to burn off some of this excess adrenaline.

In the meantime, pass the Xanax, please.

A Letter To My Brain

Do shut up.

Really.

Take your digs and snide innuendos elsewhere.

That goes for the roaring in the night as well.

Let me have a bit of peace, will you?

I know you can’t help it, but this macabre droning on and on is quite wearing.  And when I happen to wrench my attention away from your chuntering, with a bit of art or a movie, I can still see you out the corner of my eye, scribbling away in the corner, tallying up a new list of nearly plausible miseries, waiting for the chance to whisper them in my ear with your dog-sour breath.

Perhaps you need a hobby.  Archery ought to be right up your alley.  Or maybe a part-time job in Guantanamo.  Something to do with all your spare time.  I realize you think I’m your full-time responsibility, but a little vacation wouldn’t be amiss.  Visit Chernobyl.  Get a tan.

And even the creative blabber is getting old.  One cannot follow eleven creative impulses at a time no matter how fascinating or expensive.

Do you ever stop to breathe?  Let’s do that now, shall we?  Just stop, sit up from that predatory slouch, and take in a nice deep breath.  There now.  And while you’re doing that I’ll just step out the door….

Hedgehog

There comes a point, after being physically and mentally sick for several months, that I can feel choice starting to return.  It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not always real.  I get nudged by shame, or a little belch of hypomania propels me, or an invitation seems less daunting.  I feel like a hedgehog, unrolling from a hibernation ball all spiny and prickly, testing the temperature and taste of the air.  The urge to stay rolled up, safe and warm, takes a long time to fade.

I’ve gone through this process so many times now, learned to be kinder and gentler with myself, practiced my coping skills until they are second nature.  Still, reengaging takes enormous effort—starting over at the pool, making a coffee date with a friend, accepting my minister’s offer to tell my story at church.  As soon as I start to move out, I retreat—back to the warm den of my bedroom where I cut paper and listen to the extended extras on The Hobbit DVDs.  They keep me company enough, the voices of actors and production crew.  Sitting on my bed doesn’t make my arthritic knee ache or start a fit of coughing.  I’m content enough.

And I know reengagement is required.  I know my body needs to move more.  I know I must go out in the real sunshine.  I know there’s a different kind of healing in looking into real people’s eyes and listening to voices who wait for my response.

I know.  I’m just not there yet.

Penny Positive #4

From An Optimist’s Calendar—with a special weekend spin.

Emma and the Leaky Gut

While this may sound like a new Judy Blume novel, it’s really just my latest batch of experiments.

In August, when I met with my Case Manager, I was a bit weepy about the verdict of my pulmonologist (Obesity is the root cause of everything), trying and getting sick on a ketogenic diet, and the increasing pain in my knee.  Depression had trundled out the “Hopeless” cart, and I had climbed in.

My Case Manager is a lovely, up-beat, supportive darling, so when she suggested I see a hospital dietitian I felt instant betrayal.  Visions of scales and tape measures goose-stepped through my brain.  But, she asked me to think of this dietitian as someone I might add to my small support system—someone I could talk to and have on my side.  Framed that way, I agreed to meet with her.

In the meantime, I had been visiting my chiropractor for my knee and recurring TMJ.  Over the summer, she heard all about Dr. Obesity, my binge eating disorder, and all my other mental and physical woes.  For good measure, I came down with bronchitis a few weeks ago.  Along with prescribing additional protein powder to my morning shake while I’m sick, she also wondered if I might not have a Leaky Gut.

Basically, this syndrome is caused by a loosey-goosey gut allowing too much junk to pass into the blood stream, setting off an immune response that never shuts down.  Chronic inflammation of the gut follows.  Treatment involves getting rid of foods that irritate the gut and adding foods that soothe and heal it.  Dr. Ash has a quick take on Leaky Gut here.

Being sick with bronchitis turned out to be the perfect time to implement these changes.  Since I’m already lactose intolerant and get a gut ache eating bread, going dairy and gluten free was a no-brainer.  I can add bone broth to my gluten-free chicken noodle soup, eat a little kefir as a snack, and alternate my Breathe Easy tea with a variety of kombucha teas.  And my gut has stopped aching all the time.

I started to wonder:  What if obesity isn’t just a cause, but also a symptom?  What if Binge Eating Disorder isn’t just a mental illness, but also has a physical component?

These are the questions I took with me to the dietitian.

Emma is a sweet, young, cheerful professional, but had no answers.  She had heard of Leaky Gut, but knew nothing about it.  She knew about Binge Eating Disorder, but knew nothing about that either.  However, she was absolutely willing to learn.  She took all the information I brought with me and made copies for herself.  Our weekly sessions focus on what I want and my goals, not weight loss.  She is, as my Case Manager predicted, a wonderful addition to my support team.

My bad knee and intermittent TMJ turned out to be arthritis, no big surprise since my dad was a Bionic Man of joint replacements and—you know—that obesity thing making everything worse.  Whenever I think of arthritis, Mammie from Gone With The Wind pops into my head.

Arthritis waits in its web, swooping in after an injury.  An opportunistic little shithead.

Oh, well I’ll think about that tomorrow.  I have sauerkraut and wild salmon to eat now.  And tomorrow is another day.

Another Train


So, nobody said I was particularly wise.

In my desperation to tame the Binge Eating Disorder beast, I regularly cycle around to doing stupid things—things I know in my adipose-caked heart won’t work.  Like diets.  But when an authority figure (aka my new doc) blamed all my physical woes on obesity, and my trusted nurse practitioner suggested a ketogenic diet, I jumped like water in a skillet of hot bacon grease.

I learned two things:

  1. A ketogenic diet made my gut unhappy in violent ways.
  2. I will binge on anything, so changing the type of food doesn’t change the behavior one iota.

So, now I’m back to mindfulness and paying attention to my triggers.

All this food-stress didn’t help my bipolarness.  I’ve been roiling, inside and out.  My thinking is still in desperation mode, so I need to be careful not to jump on every thought-train that pulls into my station.  Another train will come.  And another.  Sooner or later, this anxiety and agitation will shift.  The urge to hop a train out of town will ease.  Eventually, I’ll be able to leave the station and go home.

But, I’ve got this ticket in my hand…

At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

Challenging the Truth

My therapist and I finished the program specific to PTSD in Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits.  Some of it was good, some lame, but one particular exercise moved my whole life in a different direction.

We all have beliefs—things we know to be true.  But beliefs can keep us stuck if we don’t risk challenging them.  In “Discovery,” we take beliefs and create a plan to find out if they are really true.  In my first round of Discovery, I looked at how I believed I was helpless to stop getting lung infections every year.  I did two things to test that truth—I hired someone to come clean my apartment once a month to see if getting rid of dust on a regular basis would help, and I arranged to see a pulmonologist.

The effect of better housekeeping won’t show up for a while, but the pulmonologist I saw a week ago gave me some straight dope.  It’s doubtful I even have asthma (though I went through more testing earlier this week to be sure), and aside from anemia there was only one other cause for all my physical symptoms.  Obesity.

When I read that in the doctor’s report, I phased out for a bit.  Dissociated is the clinical term.  The brain protects itself by going bye-bye (My experience of dissociation feels like I’m about to faint—my hands and feet go numb, I can’t hear, and I lose time).

There’s something about food, dieting, fat and binge eating that feels too horrible to face.  If I thought I felt helpless about my lungs, the belief is multiplied a thousand fold around controlling my intake.  I can’t control it.  I never have been able to control it.  I firmly believe I never will.

But, I also knew the doctor was right.  I used to be a nurse.  I still remember a little physiology.  Increased risk of infection, higher blood pressure, skin breakdown, joint pain and damage can all be hitched to the Obesity Train.

So, I went back to Discovery, because I’m very stuck in these beliefs around food.  I talked to both Megan, my therapist and Sarah, the nurse practitioner, who are my mental health team.  We drew up a plan to test my truth, and I decided early on to say, “yes” to whatever they proposed.

Sarah suggested I try switching to a low carb/high fat diet (one diet I’d never tried).  It seems counter-intuitive, and feels really weird, but I’ve been doing it for four days now.  After eating vegan for a couple of years, it seems wrong to buy sirloin and pork cutlets.  But, I’m doing it.  I still feel like I have the flu—urpy, roiling gut, drop-dead exhaustion—but I was warned about this “adjustment period” as my metabolism switches from burning carbs to burning fat.

The compulsion to binge eat is still there, but there’s not much to binge on.  It seems easier (at least in this initial phase) to go do something else.  But, I hate the way food feels in my mind.  It’s like a rubber band that’s stretched too tight.  I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed that before—the discomfort, the pressure, the tension.  I’m seeing how I seek to be numb where food is concerned—something to explore in therapy.

I will lose weight, I always do.  It’s just that I’ve never kept it off and usually gain back more.  This feels like my last chance to figure it out.  I would love to have a toolbox for Food as comprehensive as my toolbox for Bipolar Disorder.  Pretending the problems don’t exist isn’t much of a tool.  Neither are the industry standards in nutrition.  As Sarah said, “We have to do more than think outside the box.  We have to create a whole new box.”

They’re both doing this low carb diet with me, and when I go for my appointments, we’ll do them walking around the block.  I feel like there’s a chance we could actually create something new.

Life is never what one dreams.  It is seldom what one desires, but, for the vital spirit and the eager mind, the future will always hold the search for buried treasure and the possibility of high adventure. — Ellen Glasgow

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