Convergence

Events Conspire

Paths Converge

We may Choose to Ignore Them

But, What’s the Fun in That?

It all started with butt boils.

Take a part of the human body rich in adipose tissue, add pressure and heat (as in sitting for long periods of time), and that body part will revolt—or become revolting.  Enough on that matter.

diggingNext came a therapy session where we connected the dots between trauma and food as my drug of choice.  Since my diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder, I’d set down my shame and guilt about being a Woman of Substance.  I’d become kinder, more accepting of my body.  But there we were, dredging up all that business, and I found myself disappearing.  My hands and feet went numb; a rushing sound filled my head; I seemed to leave my body and drift somewhere behind and above it.

Later, I learned what I’d always called this “shutting down” was technically dissociation—an altered state of consciousness that can include depersonalization, sensory and psychological numbing, disengagement, and amnesia.  Most people experience mild forms of detachment, like daydreaming while driving and losing a bit of time.  The more pathological end of the spectrum ends up Sybil-like with fragmentation of the personality.  It’s a coping mechanism—a way to keep the psyche safe when under attack, whether that attack is real or imagined.

Clearly, I had more work to do with this.  Or, as Megan reminded me, not.  I always have choices, and she is not the variety of therapist who requires excavation of Hurtful Things.

bed-rageSoon after, as I sorted my old blog posts into potential book categories, I marveled at how I once worked so very hard at controlling my eating, how I celebrated small victories and believed I made tiny changes in my behavior.  And then I always gave up, as my endgame of losing weight could never be reached.  I started to wonder if I could ever push gently against the binge eating, if I could find a way to work with it like I’d found ways to work with bipolar disorder—gently, with acceptance and kindness, while still holding the worst symptoms accountable.  I had no idea how that might look, but I opened to the possibility instead of shutting myself away from it.

On my way to Orly Avineri’s workshop in Taos, I started reading Foolsgold by Susan Wooldridge.  In her introduction she says:

I began writing these pages when I decided to make a small collage box each day for a year with what I found on my walks—often the most ordinary, seemingly worthless bits of nothing.  That’s when fool’s gold became foolsgold for me, a field around us, or state of being, where everything can be transformed by our seeing and creativity.  Merged into one word, “foolsgold” describes a paradox, the value in what may seem to be worthless.  Foolsgold reminds us to look beyond appearances, even in ourselves.  What seems to loom in us most darkly may finally be what brings the most light. Everything can be transmuted by attention, play, love.

walkabout-coverI used to walk a lot, then stopped as it wasn’t getting me to the destination I wanted.  If I had some different motivation to walk, like looking for art fodder along the way, I might be able to do it.  I let that idea sit in my hindbrain as I got my self to Taos.

One afternoon, Orly showed us a small art journal her nephew made.  An environmental crusader, all his art is made up of junk with space for sketches and ruminations.  Orly’s nephew had no concern for style, or balance, or making things look pretty.  His art was raw and powerful.  And very simple.

I can do that, I thought.  And as that realization settled in, my body demanded it.

It took a few weeks once I got home to jumpstart idea to action.  But now I have my WalkAbout journal, and every few days I set out with my big zip lock bag and find my material for the day.

hospice-walkChange, even good change, can be stressful.  My rapid cycling has been spinning like a hamster wheel.  Some days the amount of trash among the trees and berms disgusts and weakens me.  I tell myself I can’t go out among all that thoughtlessness again.  But the hamster wheel keeps spinning, and I tie on my purple trainers.  After a couple of weeks of this, I’m learning to wait for fodder to signal me—light on shiny foil, strange lumps, a flash of color in the dunny weeds.  It gets easier and easier.  As does the art that comes after.

tama-wingMy butt likes that I’m moving more.  I make my WalkAbout pages in the evening when my binge eating is most bothersome.

I’m still on an Adventure.

Westward Ho! Day 10

IMG_0503This was my day.  I could do whatever I wanted.  So, of course I woke up at 3:00.

My host, Mary, had suggested I get to Muir Woods early before the crowds (on a Tuesday morning in April?), but I took my time and lounged.  Still I got there a few minutes before the park opened, and the ranger let me in free of charge.  Score!

I don’t know if it was the super-oxygenated air, or the urpy switchback road down to the forest floor, or the incredibly ancient energy, or just kickback from my “special cookie,” but had a little difficulty navigating.  I finally took off my tri-focals, which helped tons.  Watching an uneven path through reading-strength lenses would make anyone trip over the wildlife.IMG_0490

It was cool and dark.  Shafts of morning sun sliced through the canopy, but few reached the forest floor.  A shallow stream burbled along one side of the path.  Birds layered their voices unseen high above.

IMG_0499Whenever a tree was close to the trail, I reached out for it.  Redwood bark is dry and rough–papery.  It reinforced how old they were, these sentinels with their fragile skin.

IMG_0485I stopped at the same bench on the way out and back to sit with a Guardian at my back and meditate.  The cool, scented air. The quiet footsteps of others on the boardwalk trail. The massive presence behind me.  I was there completely.  Grounded.  Alive.

I hiked for about three hours.  After sitting for a week, it felt glorious to move (even if I was a little dipsey-doodle).  I felt the muscles of my legs and back sigh.

Soon enough, more hikers and lookie-loos wandered in.  I heard German and Japanese, Swedish (maybe, Norwegian), Spanish and Russian.  I smiled as one young dad admonished his little boys to “keep your eyes open now.”  What good advice in this place.IMG_0487

I ate lunch in the café; all organic and locally grown delights, shopped in the gift shop, then made my way back to Mill Valley without John’s help.  I found a teeny, tiny Whole Foods, bought fruit and a salad, then camped out on my little deck to play with my journal and talk to the crow fussing in the trees.

A perfect day.

Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.

Fat Girls Rock

I swam 30 laps in the Y pool yesterday.  Fat girls rock.

SoulCollage card "The First Way"

SoulCollage card “The First Way”

The Other Shoe

It was inevitable.  Stress + Bipolar Disorder = Bipolar Disorder.

Also a Dark SideI flopped around all yesterday morning, hoping this dive might even out before it was time to go in to work, but, alas, no.  So, I Instant Messaged my boss and a couple of my co-workers, and tried not to feel like a dip-shit on top of the bipolar mess.

It’s still really hard for me to believe that a workplace—any workplace—will put up with my limitations as an employee.  On top of what we’ve already negotiated, I have these days—these unpredictable absences.  They’re why I’ve lost or quit every other job I’ve ever had.  But, so far, everyone seems very cool about it.  More than that, all the responses have been incredibly kind and supportive.

Don’t worry.  Take care of yourself.  Sending Light and Healing.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that.  It’s a completely new experience for me.  And I’m afraid to trust it.

I’m also in a deep dive, so whatever my brain is churning out is unreliable.  My best course is to ignore all thought happening up there and concentrate on clearing an easy path through the weekend.

ITS FamilyPart of that will be to indulge in a little Richard Armitage.  His new movie “Into the Storm” is out this weekend.  It’s basically a horror movie with a killer tornado as the monster.  It’s special effects-driven—bad news for an actual story or interesting characters.  Oh, well.  It’s Richard.  And when I meet him in London (because I will wait at the stage door with the rest of the Armitage Army), I can tell him his Midwestern accent was spot-on.

I’m also going to Anytime Fitness since the Y is closed for cleaning.  Losing my pool for a whole week always throws me, so I knew I needed a real option this year.  They’ve got a nice recumbent bike, and I’ve got my iPod.  It will work.

I also started working on new cards with the old photos I found at my parents’ house.  I haven’t felt like doing art for a long time, but I know how it can help keep keep my brain busy on something positive.  I will make myself sit at my art table.  Something will come of it.

So, there’s A Plan.  And there’s Acceptance.  And there’s Waiting.

And that’s the best a bipolar girl can do when it’s raining shoes.

Tempest in a Teacup

Don't Know BeansHere I am, finishing up my second week of work.

The stress is enormous, not just for me, but for everyone trying to learn this new program and making up the next steps as they are needed.  The real challenge for me is to moderate the anxiety and pressure.  Under stress, I’m easily overwhelmed.  I’m like a teacup that flattens, slopping out my ability to concentrate and my emotional flexibility.  I lose capacity.

I also become reactive, and my first instinct is to bolt.  I run from the stressor, fling it off and dive into a hide-hole.  So, the words “I can’t do this” fly in and out of my head regularly.

But part of my personal journey is to work on increasing my tolerance to distress.  If I’m ever to make any lasting changes in my behavior and my life, I need to work this work situation like a puzzle.  What do I need to do to stretch my envelope of tolerance?  As always, I created a plan.

The first piece is to breathe.  It’s my starting point.  When the acronyms start flying and I can feel my body vibrating like a tuning fork, I stop and breathe deep into my belly.  It tells me to come back to myself.  It starts the process of flinging off the assumptions and negativity.  Breathing deep, I can remember why I’m doing this.  I can remember I don’t need to understand.  I can remember that I’m not alone.

I also realized that creating more structure would help soothe the anxiety, so I put an After Work plan in place.  I go straight home, change, and go to the Y to ride the recumbent bike for an hour.  That helps burn off some of the adrenaline and agitation.  Then, I journal with a cup of something soothing.  Then, I meditate.  After that, I’m rational enough to eat a sensible supper.  This helps.  Instead of bingeing all night with a movie, I’m taking positive action to stretch my tolerance.

And it seems to be working.  I may be an emotional puddle by the time I leave the office, but by the next morning my teacup is upright and able to hold water.

This is new behavior for me.  It’s also more stress than I’ve endured in years.  I’m proud of all that.  I’m also aware that I could blow at any time.  That’s the unknowable, uncontrollable piece to bipolar disorder.  All I can do is stay as mindful as I can from moment to moment and see what happens.

I’m on an Adventure.

tiny cups

Five Hundred Lengths

Swimmer≈ ≈ ≈

We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of them all, was found to have A.D.H.D. when he was a child; he has called the pool his “safe haven,” in part because “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”

We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. “Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff,” he writes in the essay “Water Babies.”

Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, “swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy.” The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered.

~ Bonnie Tsui, The Self Reflecting Pool

reblogged (sort of) from David Kanigan’s Live & Learn

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Lose 8 Pounds

Did You Wash Your SocksI knew when I wrote that goal down that it was pretty unrealistic, but I’m more interested in the process than the final result.  To that end, I’m taking a lot of positive, healthy, nurturing steps in the right direction.

Before I went into partial hospitalization, I volunteered to be the Weight Recorder for my TOPS chapter.  There’s not a lot of structure to TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), but we do have to weigh in every week.  At the time, I thought being the Weight Recorder might keep me involved with the group and make me more accountable.  What I didn’t foresee was how much fun it would be.  I love the woman who is the Assistant Weight Recorder—she has an infectious laugh and a practical, no-nonsense nature.  We’re easy together and create a supportive atmosphere for what can sometimes be a painful part of the meeting.  We focus on the positive, ask questions that might help our members make small adjustments to their plans, and do lots of cheering and hugging.  Positive juju begets more of the same.  It also keeps weight loss in the front of my brain.

lose itI also started using the Lose It site.  Keeping a food journal helps me lose weight, and doing it online is fast and easy.  I can also keep track of my exercise there.  Lose It lets me calculate the amount of weight I want to lose each week and provides a daily calorie budget.  I can set goals and join all kinds of challenges.  I’m doing four of those right now—Log in all 30 days in June, Lose 3 pounds in June, Log in how many minutes I meditate over the summer, and Stay at or under my calorie budget for the summer.  I find the challenges to be fun and motivating, but even more so with all the “Friends” there.  It’s a real social activity—people sharing their successes and struggles, passing along tips and what works for them.  And, again, there’s lots of cheerleading and support.  Another very happy place.

diana-nyad-670The challenges on Lose It have also helped me step up my exercise.  I’m at the Y seven days a week now—six in the pool and Sundays on the recumbent bike and track. This week I’m trying to add in an afternoon walk as well, though dry land isn’t as kind to my feet and back.  I figure I need to get ready for all the walking I’ll do in England!

Of course, the biggest obstacle to losing weight is my compulsive eating.  Last week I could feel the anxiety building and knew I would binge, so I tried to stay as aware as I could.  Was there a way I could minimize the damage?  Allow the release that eating brings without blowing up my calorie budget?  I hit on a great compromise—a sackful of raw veggies and a bottle of lite Ranch dressing.  I ate a big bowl of colorful, delicious, healthy food and was satisfied.  That, my friends, rarely happens.

With all of these wonderful tools and methods of support, I’m making better choices and moving in a healthier direction.   I feel stronger and, even more important, more in control.  The counselors at the hospital had a saying—Don’t be a victim of your brain.  Make it work for you.  I try to hold those words as I work on all my discharge goals, but even more so with my weight loss efforts.  I doubt I’ll make my original goal of losing 8 pounds this month.  But I will make my Lose It goal of 3 pounds.  That feels like success—for me and my brain.

Snapping Out of It

Downton MaryEveryone I know is a little discombobulated.  The holidays, the bitter cold—they’ve taken the normal way of things and dumped them, head first, in a snow bank.  It helps knowing others are slip-sliding, too, even though my befuddlement includes coming back from bronchitis and depression.  Misery loves company, as they say, but it’s not helping me find my footing any easier.

I tried streaming the first episode of Downton Abbey’s fourth season last night and found it echoed my spastic and burpy fits and starts.  Oh, this will never do!  I’m counting on the PBS online site to watch the new BBC Sherlock episodes starting on the 19th.  Since I don’t have a TV anymore and don’t subscribe to Netflix or Hulu, my options are limited.  So, as I write this, I’ve got Downton streaming on another screen, hoping that a good night’s sleep will give it the strength to play past the niggles.

Why should I care so much?  It’s just a TV show.  But it has more to do with control and expectation.  I’m at a total loss to get my eating under control, and the cold has kept me away from the gym.  My routine is hibernating, and I can’t wake it up.  The least I should be able to do is watch Downton!

I haven’t spiked a fever in almost a week and seem to be hacking less, so in spite of the -8F temp outside this morning, I’m determined to get to the Y and my swim class.  Then, I’m crossing the street to HyVee, snagging a Vanilla Latte, and camping out do get some writing done on Technical Consultant.

As for my binge eating, well, it’s back to mindfulness and pushing against the compulsion.  My therapist told me about Pandora yesterday, a site where you can program your own “radio station.”  I set up a mindfulness “station” with lots of lovely meditative music.  My intention is to go there before I eat, sit for 7 minutes listening to something soothing and breathing into the agitation that is my compulsion.  It sounds lovely, but in the throes of compulsion the idea of pausing seems impossible.  We’ll see.  It’s a new tool, and I’ll try anything.

I’ve been at the mercy of my health and the environment for too long.  I need to use this break in my internal weather to get back on track.  And I see on the other screen that Downton is unfolding without a hitch.  I’ll take that as a good omen.

Good Things Happen

abandoned hotel

On Monday, I head back to Council Bluffs for my week of Advanced Peer Training.  Since I’m finally well enough to get through the day without a nap, that works out just fine.

To keep from checking into another Walking Dead Hotel, I turned to William Shatner and Priceline to find a nice place that wouldn’t cost me a lung.  I’ve got a Comfort Inns and Suites room waiting for me—a $112/day room for the low, low price of $49/day!  I feel like a total Shat-boss, ready to kick old ladies and children out of my way at the complimentary breakfast line.Priceline, William Shatner

My friend, Bea, will act as cat concierge again, making house calls on the boys while I’m away.  I’ll leave them with plenty of food and water, but a week without human fawning would be intolerable.  Bea will offer the proper level of deference and admiration.Henry, cat in a box

I plan to stop at Whole Foods on my way West to load my cooler with kale and collard greens.  Being sick has made me sloppy, doing what’s easy instead of what’s best.  Getting out of town and doing something besides watching old movies and sleeping will help me point my energies in a healthier direction.  I can expend a little more effort in eating my greens, in using the stationary bike at the hotel’s Fitness Center (another win for the Shat!), and in taking walks after class around the funky downtown area.  I’ll be a good girl and keep my food journal, not just to keep from paying the fine at TOPS next week (50 cents!), but because I need the information.  My ponies haven’t galloped too far down range, but there are several I haven’t ridden in a while.  Time to hop on all those horses and ride.

peer supportAnd when I get home, I’ll have something special waiting for me.  Yesterday, I talked with Dan, the social worker who pointed me toward Peer Training when I was in partial hospitalization last spring.  The hospital program I went through offers an after-care support group, but it’s designed to be short-term.  Folks are only allowed to attend for three months.  Part of recovery is finding other means of emotional support through family, friends and other groups.  Many people have asked for an after-after-care group, one that would let them continue with the friends they’ve made in group.  Dan said the hospital finally approved a peer-led after-care group, and he wants me to be part of the peer team.  The week after I get home from training, I’ll meet with Dan to start orientation and training.

The position is unpaid, which bummed me at first glance.  But I quickly realized it’s the perfect way for me to ease into this work and a possible work-life.  I’ll be with people I know, working in a program I believe in at Mercy Franklin (the only place I ever saw myself working).  It’s a baby step, and that’s the only way to proceed here.

It’s so easy to focus on the crappy stuff—being sick, being crazy.  Good Things happen, too.  Especially when I point my energy and thoughts in that direction.  I am infinitely grateful for that reminder today.

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