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. That was the time I discovered the top whey protein powder, but I’ll tell about this in some other post.  So, 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.

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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.

Getting My Breath Back

handmade greeting cards, collage art

The transition from hacking bed-lump to fully engaged routine-aphile is a long, slow process.  There comes a point about two weeks into a typical bout of bronchitis where I lose all good humor and go limp with despair.  The “I’ll never get well—I’m cursed with putrid lungs—Kill me now” kind of despair.  All my clothes are sweat through, all my dishes dirty in the sink, and all I want from the grocery store is junk that makes me even more comatose.  I’m convinced everyone I know has forgotten I even exist.  Even the cats slink away from me and hide in the closet.  It’s not a pretty picture.  The pity-pot is glued to my ass.

But I knew that phase was coming and watched for it.  I knew the chances were good that being sick would trigger bipolar symptoms, which just compounds the fun.  I’ve noticed fluttery spasms of anxiety and waves of depression that drift like clouds across the sun.  They catch me up short, a completely different experience than the sick-too-long slump.  But, so far, I’ve been able to just breathe through all these mental discomforts.  As soon as I could, I drove out to the little lake south of town and walked in the warm October sun.  Everything looks better with that jewel-blue sky above and the golden slant of light blazing against the wildflowers.

This week I returned to my water aerobics class.  The water welcomed me back, as did the folks in class, and even though I’m slow and still hacking, I’m not nearly as weak as I thought I’d be.  Then, I sat at the HyVee cafe with my Starbucks skinny latte and wrote.  The brain is rusty, and I’m exhausted when I go home, but pulling part of my routine back on feels right, necessary, and as cozy as pulling on my winter fleece.

We all carry unfortunate baggage.  I happen to have asthma, allergies and bipolar disorder.  They cause disruption.  I can guard against infection and monitor my thoughts, but they will still show up.  The only real defense I have is in how I respond to their effects.  Health lies in how I push against my old reactions and chose something else.  Something positive.  Something loving.  Recovery depends on unloading as much weight from those bags as possible.

So, tomorrow (my birthday!), I’ll greet my friends in the water.  I’ll climb into my truck, plug in my earbuds, and head for Des Moines where good coffee, a good movie, and time with my meditation buddies will fill my creative well.  The baggage is still there, but I’m carrying it a little easier these days.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

????????????????????It’s always a shock when reality stubs your toe—especially when you thought the path was clear.  Oops, where was I when the sidewalk heaved?

I was managing this Week of Ultimate Change like a boss.  Before the Y closed for its annual week of maintenance, I called around to find another pool.  But with the rise in parasitic infections in public pools and school starting soon, all the pools I called were closed or closing.  So, instead, I parked my truck and walked everywhere.  I thought putting new inserts in my old sneakers would be a good idea, but ended up getting blisters.  Oh, well.  That’s what Band-aids are for.  The weather was mild this week, and I loved tramping all over town with my iPod.

True to my word, I followed up on the referral my group counselor gave me for Peer Support information.  What I got back were more referrals, so I fired off more queries.  I have a feeling I’m knocking on doors still under construction, but I’ll keep at it.  At the same time, I made sure my mental health records transferred to my new clinic and got an intake appointment scheduled for September.  All the ducks started lining up.

I checked on my mom, coordinated schedules with my sister to share duties, paid attention so as to not over-extend myself.

At TOPS, I neither gained nor lost, which seemed miraculous with all the change swirling around me.  But, I chalked it up to lucky brain chemistry and tried not to eat to celebrate.

And writing came easy this week—bits and pieces of my current story in Shitty First-Draft form (that is a technical term).  I can feel the words pulling me now, which is the pay-off for putting butt to chair and pen to paper every day.  I spent several hours everyday on my memoir as well, sorting through 800 pages of rough copy.

I knew I was enjoying one of my respite phases, a break in the bipolar Push Me-Pull You, but I started to take credit for it.  All this work I was doing, being all responsible and productive, must be good for me.  I know better than to take ownership of my brain’s haphazard chemical stew, but ego is a determined little bugger.  And its voice is so lovely.  Look how easy this is, it said.  Look how you’ve cleared the path…

So, of course,  there came a day when I tripped.  I completely forgot about my meditation group.  Only after my friends called to make sure I was all right did I really stop and Look.  I felt the agitation, the ramping up of ‘productivity” into spinning, the push to quiet it with food, the antsy itch to bolt.

Sly, sly Mania!  It knows I’ll ignore it as long as I can, because it feels so good.  But it gives itself away eventually, whether by grandiosity or giddiness or obsession.  The energy of it won’t let things stay tidy and organized.  Cracks break open in the sidewalk.  As Yeats said, “the centre will not hold.”

Being manic doesn’t discount the work I’ve done this week.  It’s just a reminder to not get cocky and to watch where I’m going.

Princess Bridezilla

Funny that The Princess Bride keeps rattling around inside my head when I’m in the midst of rapid cycling. Well, funny might not be the right word.  Inconceivable, maybe.

Princess Bride, Fire Swamp

It’s a dire warning when I’m more depressed getting out of the water than when I get in.  My deep water aerobics class is the highlight of my day, nearly guaranteed to jump-start a little feel-good chemistry.  It may not last long, but even a couple of hours of relief when the depression is mighty feels like heaven.  Lately, it’s been more like the Fire Swamp with lightening sand and Rodents of Unusual Size sucking my energy.

There are days when nothing helps, not even my most radical back-up plan.  Driving through the beautifully cool morning?  Nope.  Starbucks and my journal?  Just pisses me off more.  A double feature?  Blowing a credit card wad on British DVDs?  A healthy, vegan dinner at Hu Hot?  Distracting and numbing, but once finished I’m back in The Pit of Despair.

 

There are times when my skin is just too thin.  Everything seeps in.  I checked out the Masterpiece Mystery! series Wallander from the library last week and devoured it.  The BBC adapted Swedish writer Henning Mankell’s murder mysteries with lush photography; tight, complicated plots; and a jaw-dropping performance by Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.  The music is haunting and images of the forlorn Swedish countryside painfully beautiful.  Wallander himself is just as haunted.  There is no doubt that this deeply depressed detective will never gain a shred of insight or be able to change his self-destructive ways.

I feel the guy’s pain.  Literally.

Wallander, Kenneth Branagh

I walked into my mom’s nursing home on Sunday to a dining room full of drooling, slumped souls waiting to be fed, or cleaned up, or wheeled elsewhere.  My compassion turned tail and yike!yike!yiked! it out of there.  The only thing left was my wide open nerve ending and a smattering of guilt.  I ducked my head to keep from making any eye contact, but I still needed to wade through the moist miasma of smells to the other side of the room.  It was as horrific to me as anything Stephen King ever put his name to.  It crawled under my skin and festered.  And in the back of my mind, The Dread Pirate Roberts smirked, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

The refrigerator is too loud, my tee shirt too green, the bushes outside my apartment too bushy.  Nothing on my iPod sounds right.  And if Henry gives me one more of those looks I’ll burst out crying.

Yesterday I researched a little for my story Technical Consultant.  Carrie Severide will have to go to London, and I needed to find out what that might look like.  Getting a passport, managing a long and lousy flight, jet lag, bad food—it all started to make me sweat.  I got anxious for her, this creation in my head, and had to stop.

My internal stimulus can be just as overwhelming as the external.  I’m water-boarded with wordswordswords.  Images tumble over each other like a litter of snarly opossums.  The brain red-lights into overload all on its own.

It takes a lot of deep breathing to pause and step back from all of it.  But, that’s the Work.  That’s always the Work.  To untangle and get the tiniest bit of perspective.  And it could be worse.  It could always be worse.  As Inigo Montoya says, “Let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”

That’s it.  An Adventure.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Princess Bride, Inigo, Fezzik, Westley

Scuttled

handmade greeting card, collage artI spoke too soon the other day.  Not up from the deep just yet.  A common mistake.  This rapid cycling is tricksy, let’s a person break the surface for a bit, enough to gulp air, then the waters close over the top before a soul can recognize the drag back into the black.  An odd feeling this time of being altered, alien, apart.  Of moving in a different time zone than the people around me.  Of speaking a different dialect.  Again, that sly bipolar brain working its funky alchemy.

Another day of doing what I can, when I can.  Moving through the water with goggles and the sound of my breath bubbling underneath—yes.  Packing up chai and journal to sit next to the big library windows—probably.  Acting like a normal consumer by checking Staples and Wal-Mart off my list—maybe.  It all depends on the Sturm und Drang playing in the background—the bipolar soundtrack can hurt the ears sometimes.  And a body pillaged by fractured sleep and rusty nails in the joints.

But the bed is made, the litter boxes clean, the dishes washed.  It could be a start.  It could be enough.

Where Everything is Music

handmade greeting card, collage artI hardly recognize myself.  Twelve days of clear skies and mental calm seas.  Fourteen days since the last time my illness made me jump in the truck and escape to the movies.  I get up, go to the Y and come home to my own table with my own chai.  A few weeks ago, the thought of living without a coffee shop would have made me weep with grief.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

I come home and journal with my own chai, work on my manuscript as easily as I type this.  No angst, no sharp hooks of remembered pain when I enter the old journals.  Just typing.

I prepare a hearty lunch of sautéed vegetables and pasta.  I cook every day.  Cook with pleasure.  A few weeks ago the idea of cooking filled me with terror.  Now, it’s nothing.  Nothing.

There’s a bone-deep satisfaction in all I’m doing, how I can choose to stay home, prepare my meals, walk to the Y.  I’m saving money.  Me.  When only a few weeks ago I didn’t know how I would survive to the end of the month.  The strangle-hold of poverty let go.  In this place of gentle weather, I have enough, and I can make this choice to set money aside for my car fund.  A choice.  I have a choice.

In the afternoons, I go back to the Y and walk with my iPod.  The music pulls the day together—the work, the pleasure, the satisfaction all flow into my feet and my swinging arms.  Here I am.

I go home to make a card, blend a fruit smoothie, and sit with Jane Austen.  The cats gather.  Night grows deeper.  We listen to the music singing us, so quiet and calm.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing.

• • •

Dont’ worry about saving these song!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn’t matter.

·

We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.

·

The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world’s harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.

·

So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

·

This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

·

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

·

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can’t see.

·

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.

—Rumi

The Good Fight

handmade greeting cards, collage artSo, I’m ducking and weaving with this whole idea of letting Life be instead of knocking it to the ground.  It’s a weird place for me, the Ultimate Gnat’s Ass Detailer.  My modus operandi is to schedule, make lists, revise the schedule, scrap the first list and make a new one.  I’m never comfortable without a Plan.  But, see, after all this time, the Plan is ingrained.  I know what works and what doesn’t as far as my bipolarness goes.  And there will never be an Answer. There’s no alchemy, no incantation of To Do lists that will halt the rapid cycling or turn me into someone who can work a day job.

What I’ve got are a few tools to help me be the healthiest I can be in the moment—daily exercise, an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, distraction that does no harm, and an attitude of skepticism when it comes to what my brain says.  That’s all really.  Turning from “what’s the plan” to “what do I need now” is incredibly hard.  I’m giving up my fantasy of the future.  But when I take a breath and notice the details around me right now, that unlikely future loses its glamour.

Yesterday, walking around the track at the Y, I had to dodge clots of teenagers.  Bored from watching the girls’ volleyball tournament, they hung out around the free weights or wandered aimlessly back and forth across the track, not paying attention to the runners and walkers.  Several times, I had to gently push them aside as I marched past.  One girl stopped right in front of me and I had to straight-arm her out of my way to keep from falling.  But, no one fell.  No one stumbled.  No collisions or recriminations.  No anger or scolding.  Just paying attention and making adjustments.

And then there was that golden, winter afternoon light that shot through the high windows and kissed me on every lap.  Sweet, blinding sunlight for a moment.  A flash of warmth on my face.  A gift, if I only turned my face toward it.

Of course, there will be backsliding in my acceptance of moment-to-moment life.  Last night I rebelled.  After seven months of vegan eating, I ordered a Super Supreme from Pizza Hut, ate half of it with a bottle of wine, and watched “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.”  This, my sad and angry little brain told me, is as close to sex as you’ll ever get again.

Richard ArmitageYes, facing reality instead of living in fantasy is a little hard to swallow sometimes.  I watched Richard Armitage in The Vicar of Dibley on YouTube and cheered.  A handsome stranger falls head-over-heals for an obese, middle-aged cynic—oh, dream come true!  But, dreams like that keep me from living.  There are no handsome strangers in real life, just banter with the happily married help-desk guy at the Y.  Losing weight will not transform me into a young, desirable princess.  I am firmly in Queen territory now, fast approaching Crone-hood.

There are pleasures and delights in my life as it is—a purring, furry presence to wake me in the morning, an iPod full of cheer, train whistles in the dark, the kindness and patience of friends.  This is my life—quixotic and painful with moments of grace.  This is the fight now—to stand side-by-side with my bipolarness and duke it out together for place to stand.  To live together in the moment.

To be real.

Thoughtless

handmade greeting cards, collage artAs part of the “vacation from my life,” I’ve put a moratorium on thinking.  No ponderings, no plannings, no endless rehashing of what my moods mean.  I refuse to follow my thoughts into the future or back into the past.  And when I catch myself drifting along with my brain, I gently bring myself—empty-headed—back to right now.

It’s what we do in meditation, and what I teach as the beginning point of self-monitoring.  But as long as this respite lasts, I’m not shaking loose of my thoughts to monitor anything.  I’m just clearing space.

And what a lovely day I had today.  Without a routine or a plan, I got up this morning wondering what I needed.  Gentle exercise and warmth (I’ve been feeling the cold lately).  So I went to the later water aerobics classes in the heated, shallow pool.  After that, I drove to the city for a movie (Broken City.  Excellent.), then went to Half Price Books to look for poetry.  I spent a good hour leafing through anthologies and slim books of poems, something I never do.  I took my time, reading and browsing.  I picked House of Light by Mary Oliver, then found a cheap copy of Bird by Bird, my favorite book on writing by Anne Lamott.  Those thin volumes made me happy.

Across the street is one of my new favorite places in the world—Whole Foods.  What’s that smell when you walk in?  The flowers?  The produce?  Something super-saturates the air with life.  I love wandering the store with those tiny carts, touching the pretty greens and finding everything a vegan could ever want.  Fellow vegan blogger Jeff, linked to a recipe for Roasted Apple, Butternut Squash, and Carmalized Onion Pizza this morning.  On impulse, I decided to get the few ingredients I needed to make it this weekend.

Then, I went next door to Best Buy and found a Magic Bullet at a very reasonable price.  I’ve wanted a food processor for a while now, but since I wasn’t cooking much I didn’t think it was worth the cost.  But, today, when I saw the Big Yellow Box, I went in.  Compulsive?  Maybe.  I don’t care.  I’m not thinking about it.

What I sensed today was my brain relaxing.  Little bursts of inspiration, like when I first woke up and I had the solution to a problem in my manuscript.  I didn’t ponder it or agonize over it.  It just came.  A gift.  I also felt more kindly toward people—touched by the cashier who found a coupon for my pizza crust, touched by the young dad who carried his tiny daughter on his shoulders.  I felt my aversion to the human race softening.  I engaged the people I encountered today, something I’ve not wanted to do in a while.

Whatever this relaxing brain brings me is fine.  I’m not going to stew about it, second-guess it or write pages on it.  In fact, I left my book bag (with my ever-present journal) home today.  No thinking allowed.  Just experiencing my life as it is.

I may get to know me yet.

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