Reset

It’s Week 2 of the latest Bronchitis Bout.  Like bipolar disorder, there’s really nothing new about getting month-long lung crud.  It happens.

Sorta amazing, really, this blasé acceptance of whatever the day brings.  I’m not always this cool, but it’s such a gift when I can be.  Seems to me I was raging right up to the point of chills and fever.

A physical shock often resets my bipolar rheostats.  Two weeks ago, I was text-wailing at my friend Lily, taking offense wherever I could find it, and wrestling paranoid thoughts to the mat.  Today, I did laundry and cleaned up cat barf with nary an emotion in sight.

Except a little glee.  I started a goofy spread in my art journal based on something I cut out of an old magazine years ago: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  I worked on this one little piece while my laundry tumbled, and it just made me happy.

Sorta amazing, really.

Muttering

mousy-ladiesI’ve stalled out in a mixed-state depression.  It’s nothing new, not even very noteworthy, but I’m always surprised by how it changes everything.  My perception becomes bleak and twisted, my body slow and creaky.  I miscommunicate and send mixed messages, because every part of my brain is mixed.  I’m confused and confusing.

Depression with rage is so uncomfortable, and so isolating.  I hate everyone.  Or am scared of them.  Ancient resentments and regrets rise up like specters out of unholy ground.  This is the part of my bipolarly existence that sees a life as a hermit as the only option.

I have a couple of mantras during these times:

Keep Your Mouth Shut

It Will Shift Soon

Just Wait

pretty-magazinesSo, I’m muttering mantras.  And looking at pretty magazines.

temp-poldark-poster2And watching Poldark.

 

 

 

And making art.

making-art

 

Lots of art.

Catching Up

the-captive

After almost three weeks of Clear, Calm Mind, weeks when I made art with quiet joy and dug into the second draft of my book about being bipolar, weeks when decisions made themselves; after weeks when the Dark Times of last autumn faded, the inevitable shift came.

northern-exposureFirst, just a melancholia set in as I  watched the last season of Northern Exposure (like getting weepy over Hallmark commercials).  Mopping up with Kleenex, I would have called myself hormonal if I still had any Girl Parts.  But after the final episode, I felt bereft.  I’d binge-watched all six seasons of the show, and now it was over.  I have a bad feeling about this, my Inner Han Solo muttered.

Later that day, I shut down during therapy.  We hit something big, and it blew all the circuits.  My therapist talked and all I could hear was the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (Wah-wah-wah).

lala2Yesterday I met my friend at the theater to see LaLa Land and cried through the whole thing.  Not that I was paying attention to what was on the screen.

It takes me a bit to catch up with the shift.  I have to find a little spot of compassion and mindfulness where I can change gears.  What do I need?  What do I have to take care of and what can wait?  I will stay home today and do art at my table instead of going to church and the Writing as a Spiritual Practice group that I love.  I can make this decision without guilt or self-loathing.  It’s what needs to be today.

Tomorrow I will focus on preparing my apartment for the new bed-bug prevention regiment.  There’s a lot to do—vacuum, get everything off the floor, pull the furniture away from the walls.  I don’t quite understand what will be done, some kind of silicon mist, so I need to get as much stuff under cover as I can.  Then, on Tuesday, the cats and I will camp out at friends all day while this procedure takes place.  I’m not sure what kind of clean-up will be required once we get back.  All I know is that I can’t vacuum for three days.

no-need-to-hurryStuff like this is stressful on my best day.  I had found a rhythm with the quarterly bug-sniffing dog’s visits, but I guess Radar wasn’t as accurate as advertised.  Now management has decided on this annual preventative hoo-haw instead.  It’s so disruptive and worrisome.

So, I breathe and try to turn my thinking.  I don’t have bedbugs, but if my neighbors do, I’m at risk.  So this is a good thing.  Proactive.  And only once a year.  I can do this.

And if it’s all I do this week, it will be enough.

Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

The End of Gratitude

Gratitude U

At least in collage form. For a while. Frankly, it was exhausting to summon up so much gratitude when I was hospital-worthy.

Gratitude V

Negative thoughts yoke themselves to negative emotions. One can trigger the other, strengthening the connection, creating a wider, smoother highway for each subsequent episode.

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Forging new neural responses through mindfulness and self-compassion takes time and lots of practice.  It feels counter-intuitive at first.  For years, perhaps, we’ve berated ourselves for not being strong enough, disciplined enough, grateful enough.  These core beliefs feel so true, we don’t even question them.

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You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection–Buddha

Science now supports what that old bodhi tree-sitter knew–mental illness must be embraced with love and awareness from those who suffer from it.

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It feels impossible only because it’s a path waiting to be created.  But I’ve found over the years of making my own trail through this bramble that it gets easier to remember the way back to it.  And once I remember to treat myself gently and with exquisite care, I find I can breathe again.

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And then, I can be grateful for the air, and my lungs, and this day.

Take-Aways

anton/compassion

…be attentive to what is arising within you, and place that above everything else… What is happening in your inner most self is worthy of your entire love; somehow you must find a way to work at it.

—Rainer Maria Rilke (from the cover of an IOP handout on PTSD)

•Mindfulness and Self-Compassion change the  physical structure and chemistry of the brain.  Now there is scientific proof.

•Books I’ve ordered on the studies and effects of neuro-plasticity that have been referenced in IOP:

  1. Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits
  2. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Richard Mendius and Rick Hanson
  3. Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham
  4. Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James Doty
  5. The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel Segal, John Kabat-Zinn and John Teasdale
  6. Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristin Neff

I’ll be in the program one more week.

Trick or Treat

werewolf-girlOne of the earwigs of my flavor of bipolar disorder is passive suicidal ideation.  I’ve learned that thoughts of death, the desire to be dead, and fantasies about my funeral are all just symptoms of my illness, not some conclusion or solution I arrive at on my own.  I’ve come to understand them as just one Tootsie Roll in the party favor basket of worsening depression.  I can root around in my stash to see if the other treats are there—insomnia, social isolation, hypersensitivity, lack of interest in things I usually enjoy, persistent hopelessness and despair.  This is not the Halloween candy I want, but it’s the loot I’ve been given.

One of the ways I counter these distorted hobgoblins is by remembering I have the ultra-rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder.  I can count on the witch’s brew of my brain chemistry to shift in hours or days.  All I have to do is distract myself until that happens.  I’ve gotten pretty good at that.

The other thing I can count on is the complete unpredictability of my illness.  My care providers and I have tried to track patterns and triggers.  We’ve charted seasonal changes (sometimes), stress (sometimes), length and depth of mood shifts (no pattern there).  This year has been like no other, but that’s like saying snowflakes are different.  So what?

graph-down-300x2252All I can really say is that last year around this time I got pneumonia.  Since then, I’ve been depressed except for the tempering effect of my cross-country trip out West and back.  I’ve had burps of hypomania, and a few good days, but each dip downward has been lower than the last.  And the good days are rare.

That’s a long time to keep distracted.  It’s a long time to push against the negativity and the whispers of a Final Relief.

Earlier this week I found myself shifting from passive to active suicidal ideation.  That’s a clinical and un-scary way of saying I starting planning how to get the job done.  If it weren’t for the promise I made to my cats, that I wouldn’t abandon them, I might have followed through.  I like to think not, but it was deep and dark in my head.

Instead I called Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient psych department and got on their waiting list for an intake interview.  Since my therapist had called them two weeks ago to get information, they bumped me up the list, and I’ll get that interview next week.

togetherIt sounds so easy when I write it out like that, but it took all the skill, energy, and courage I had in the moment to make that call.  It meant stopping the forward momentum that had been pushing me for months and turning in a different direction.

Once I made the call, the relief was immediate.  I’m still severely depressed, but the suicidal Junior Mints melted—which makes a nice treat for my cats since I’m out of catnip.  They deserve a treat.  Even if it’s only a mental construct, they saved me.  My heroes.

And now, in the spirit of changeability, for something completely different.

The Justice League—Bipolar Style

Merely AgogI’ve been in trouble for a while now, mental health-wise.  The amnesia that comes with severe symptoms keeps me from remembering that this is normal.  My brain yammers that I’m getting worse, that my social skills are devolving, that all my tools are useless, and that, maybe, by brain is starting to liquify.  But, the reality is I’ve been here before.

One of the many vital roles my therapist assumes is that of Archivist.  She starts a sentence by saying, “When you’ve been like this before…” and suddenly I can breathe again.  I spend so much energy and attention on navigating the whip-quick changes of the rapid cycling aspect of my illness, it’s very hard to pull focus and take in the larger picture.  Shifts happen in the slow time of seasons.  My Richter Scale rarely registers a catastrophic event, but like earthquakes, the tension builds over time to an inevitable break.

Recovering this broader perspective helps.  I’ve survived 8.9 quakes before, so how do I do that again?  Before, I would check into Mercy Hospital’s Out-Patient program (day-care for the neuro-diverse), but like so many other mental health care programs and hospitals in Iowa, it no longer exists.  The programs that are left focus on folks who need functional help.  I don’t need help doing my laundry (usually).

My Integrated Health Caseworker said something like this yesterday, “You’re so high-functioning, you fall through the cracks.”

It’s a Catch-22, being a Bipolar Bad-Ass.

img_0977Friday, I went early to my therapy appointment.  I brought my wheely cart of art supplies and camped out at their little corner table in the waiting room.  They thought that was a brilliant idea, and invited me back whenever I felt the need.  So, I went again yesterday and stayed all day.

There’s no therapy, no expectation of interaction beyond a quick hello, but it’s a safe place that’s quiet and welcoming.  Sorta like going to a coffee shop, except the baristas love and understand me.  I call it “Out-Out-Patient Care.”

My therapist and I are also exploring alternatives.  What about a Mindfulness class that would provide structure and an emphasis on Doing The Work?  What about some sort of retreat?  These things cost money, so we pulled in my caseworker to help hunt for grants.

I am grateful everyday that I function as well as I do.  AND it’s hard work to find services that fit me.  AND it’s hard to think outside the box when thinking is most difficult. But, I have an actual team helping me now—my own little Mental Health Justice League.  I’m not feeling much like Wonder Woman at the moment, but with a little help, I might be able to find that lasso.

there-is-10-wonder-woman-border-free-cliparts-all-used-for-free-1ilm0d-clipart

Brain Ferrets

Noise in My Head

I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to listen to my brain, especially when the noise is negative. And adamant.  So, I’ve stuck my fingers in my ears a lot over the summer.  Lalalala.  I can’t hear you.

But brains are insidious, crafty, gray matter ferrets. Mine can sniff out a weak spot and gnaw until there’s room for a nest.  Pretty soon, baby brain-ferrets slink through the cracks of my reality.  They shred everything, those little stinkers, until fact, delusion, awareness, perception, fear, and anything else they find turn into one, pulpy mess.

I wouldn’t mind this so much if they’d just shut up about it. Unfortunately, I speak fluent Brain Ferret.

chewingWhy even go to church?  You can’t make any commitments. You can’t even sign up for fun stuff like the Murder Mystery dinner or the music concerts without cancelling most of the time.

Shut it, Boba Ferret.

And nobody noticed that you didn’t attend all summer.

Yes, they did. Scott and Karen said they missed me.  And what about those emails from Linda and Sally?

Months ago.  That’s not the Community you hoped for.

Shut up, Ferret Bueller.  They’re not mind-readers.  They can’t know I’m brain-sick unless I tell them. Contrary to your opinion, I’m not the center of everyone’s universe.

You wanted to participate, teach meditation, work on Social Justice teams.  Face it.  You can’t do that stuff anymore.  You’ve lost the capacity to be around people.

Well … Maybe …

ferretsYou lasted 30 minutes at your cousin’s funeral this weekend before you had to bolt and find a quiet place outside.

I know …

And those are people you’ve known all your life.

Stop.  Just stop a minute.

You’re losing your social skills.  Your tolerance for distress is shrinking.  You’re getting worse.  Maybe your brain is starting to rot.

Sometimes it does feel that way.

And that stupid art journal.  What is that crap?

Listen here, Family von Ferret, I see the mess you’ve made here.  I can’t sort it out right now, so I’m just shutting this door…

WE’LL CHEW THROUGH IT!

And I’m calling the Exterminators.

ferret2• • •

Uh huh.  That’s right.  Slink back to your nest and stay there!

We’ll be back.

Yeah, I know, Arnold Schwartzenferret.

I know.

Ask Already

Bipolar Mind

ψ

I forget that neuro-normals don’t always know how to bring crazy into a conversation.  I also know other folks with mental illness aren’t always as open as I am (i.e. in-your-face TMI) and have real reasons to keep their condition private.  So I grok that asking me how I am might be intimidating.  Old taboos, stigma, Midwestern Nice—for whatever reason, some folks are more comfortable asking other people how I am.

My sister told me about one mutual friend who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but…”

Whaaaaa?

I guess it’s possible, during one of my Swampy Brain days, that I might have sprayed venom like a velociraptor if a human being invaded my space (which varies depending on the amount of Swamp).  Or muttered an F-word-laced answer to a direct question.  Or maybe just burst into tears.  It’s possible.

Gosh, I hope not.  I want people to ask after me—especially on those Everglades days.  When my hold on Reality is shakiest, I need to know people haven’t written me off or (horrors!) forgotten about me.  Kindness makes me cry, but I hope that isn’t a deterrent.

Come to think of it, inquiring directly about my state of mind could get pretty messy what with all the spittle, and weepage, and colorful expletives.  It might take someone with a HAZMAT suit and no sense of propriety.

I can live with second-hand concern.  I’m still touched by it.  And I apologize if a squirting, prehistoric potty-mouth responded to anyone’s approach.  I hope they try again.  I’ll use my words next time.

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