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

Saying Good-Bye Well

Yesterday, I said my last good-bye to Mark Stringer, the minister at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.  He told us six months ago that he was leaving the ministry, and I’ve been grieving ever since.

It’s weird—we never had a private conversation, just exchanged a few words as I shook his hand on Sunday on my way out the door.  But in the three years that I’ve been going to First Unitarian, I’ve been able to share enough of my story with him to make a connection.

No, that’s not quite right.  I felt connected to him.

From the first service I attended, I knew this guy got it.  His sermons seemed like extensions of my therapy sessions, filled with the importance of mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and awareness of our own realities.  He made me laugh and cry—usually at the same time.  Finally, after searching for years, I’d found a spiritual home and someone who spoke to the things that mattered to me.

PTSD makes me vulnerable to abandonment-thinking.  Bipolar disorder distorts any thinking into darker twists of hopelessness.  I knew I needed to work this through or I’d probably never go back to the church once he was gone.

So, I attended every Sunday service (once I recovered enough from my last bronchial bomb).  I cried (okay, sobbed) through each one of them, Kleenex box clutched tight.  I made myself look him in the eye after our hug at the door and thank him for the opportunity to do this work.  Some mornings I was too verklempt to say the words, but Mark would hold my watery gaze and say, “I understand.”

While I grieved, I also noted every friend at church who sought me out, every acquaintance who grinned when our eyes met.  I forced myself to see that FU (you gotta love a church with those initials) offered me real community and relationships beyond Mark.  I made a point of wandering around after services to find people I knew and admired in order to weave another thread into our connection.

Yesterday we held his celebratory Farewell Tour at the performing arts theater of one of the city’s high-end high schools (very lovely).  We needed room enough for the whole congregation to honor Mark’s sixteen years of service.  He came to us straight from theological school and is moving on to be the Executive Director of the Iowa ACLU.

I wept like everyone else, touched by his words and deeds (he performed the first same-sex marriage in Iowa), amazed at all he and the church had accomplished (doubled the membership and increased FU’s legislative presence on issues of justice).  But, my tears were of joy and gratitude, not grief.  I spent yesterday talking to my friends, making sure I told the speakers and the choir now much they moved me, and asking questions about the ministerial search process.  I did what I set out to do—I said good-bye well.

It might be good for me to get involved in the Search process, since who “ministers” to me is so very important.  But, I’m tucking that thought away until I learn more.  Will the various committees be able to use a bipolar member who lives an hour away and who may not be able to follow through?  Can I allow myself to be that vulnerable?  Can I get involved and accept my limitations?

It wouldn’t be an Adventure without some mystery and a little risk.

Here’s the first sermon I heard Mark deliver.  Seventeen minutes is an eternity in blogland, but it might be worth your while.

Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

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.

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.

Safe in Jane Austen’s Arms

Thanks to everyone who offered an opinion about whether A Mind Divided stays or goes.  Honestly, I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but holy crow!  They just kept jumping out of the water!  If I thought my ego was gassy before… well…all I can say is somebody better light a candle.

I’m still pondering.  But I also want to keep showing up in a significant way.

As my therapist and I started working through Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manuel for PTSD and Substance Abuse, she suggested I use my art journal to create a sense of safety.  So, this:

ptsd-safety

While I don’t have the dual diagnosis this book targets, we substitute food for drugs and alcohol sometimes.  I’ve been told Binge Eating Disorder is a completely different mechanism than addiction (that wacky, clever brain!), but sometimes it’s useful to look at how I eat to numb and distract.  Bipolar disorder, Binge eating disorder, trauma, anxiety—they all twirl together in a Regency Allemande.

This actually feels very much like my brain—chaotic, lively, jumbled—with the brooding Mr. Darcy circling the perimeter.  There are worse things than being a Jane Austen novel.

Is It Soup Yet?

whisper-of-vomit

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to take this blog off the stove.

I don’t really have much more to say about my experience of bipolar disorder.  I’ve spewed.  I’ve wallowed.  I’ve raged.  I’ve picked up shiny objects along the path and given them a look-see.  I’ve made lots and lots of Plans.  I’ve fought hard and surrendered.  I’ve changed my tune as often as my mood.

i-am-largeThere’s no end-point, no resolution, no Ah-Ha Moment or Happily Ever After.  For me, now, there’s just the daily practice of being me and trying to accept whatever shows up out of the bipolar soup.  There’s still pain and confusion, but also moments of soft contentment.  I struggle every day with relationships, but so does everyone else on the planet.  Periods of suicidal thinking will rise and fall as will my ability to function in the outer world.  So be it.

Still.

New stuff keeps surfacing out of this tepid bouillabaisse.  Since my therapist and I started working with my PTSD symptoms, my internal weather seems different.  The barometric pressure of trauma feels different from that of rapid cycling.  Free-floating fear now follows a pattern.  Opening the windows to let in fresh air turned out to be much less horrific than I’d imagined.  And I have new tools.  Gotta love new tools.

vocabulary-ninjaAside from writing about my practice of mental illness, I’ve posted enough fan-fiction to satisfy my ego.  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I can craft a decent story.  I don’t need to prove anything anymore.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Still.

I will take these six years of blog posts and rewrite them (with maybe the help of essay rewrite service) into a book of essays that I’ll self-publish sometime this year. Writing is still important to me—not just communicating, but crafting a sentence, weaving a metaphor, developing a thought.  Is the challenge to go deeper?  Is there a story in acceptance as well as agony?  If I stopped blogging, would I search as hard for balance?  Do I need this blog to keep me on the Path?

woohooAnd then there’s the art.  Illustrating posts with my cards and collages still lights up my ego.  I can feel it light up—all bloat and gas—and wait for the comments to roll in.

Still.

Sometimes, a piece holds more therapy than ego.  It carries a different flavor, adds savory and smoke.  It blends with the words to create a richer meaning for me.  I’m not sure ego ever disappears, but when words and art blend in this way, my ego gets quieter.  And when the ego shuts up, all kinds of doors can open.  This magic happens in my art journal.  I’m not sure it translates here.

Almost every blogger I’ve read comes to this crossroad—continue or stop, take a break or refocus.  I need to hold these questions gently and keep showing up while they simmer.  Because no matter what…

I’m on an Adventure.

Disquietude

get-back-up-artistMy computer came home today, perkier, but still not firing on all cylinders.  The tech-docs did their best and will continue to monitor vitals.  At least I don’t have to create posts on my phone anymore.

Perhaps now my vague disquietude will ease up.  I feel like I’m constantly patting my mental pockets to make sure I have my keys.  What am I forgetting?  I start out the day with my gym bag and art tote, then forget my purse.  Once back in the car, I realize I’ve forgotten the letter I need to mail.  Then, my coffee.  Or like yesterday, I left my coat somewhere and still haven’t found it.

I’m discombobulated, constantly ticking important stuff off on my fingers.  Cats alive?  Gas in the car?  Shoes on?  I check my calendar, then look at it again because I can’t remember what was there.  I’m guessing my anxiety is a little spiky.

I’ve been getting about two hours of sleep at night for several months —even taking Xanax, which is usually all I need.  So, my med provider switched me to Clonazepam—same pharm family (anti-anxiety), but with a longer duration plus a heavy weight blanket.  I still wake up three or four times a night, but go back to sleep, which I wasn’t able to do on Xanax.  And I’m not waking up furious.  That alone is a huge relief.  Any morning I can get out of bed not pissed off or in PTSD flashback-mode is already a success—no matter what else follows.

hen-in-charge1116Before Anthony, the tech-surgeon, made his house call this afternoon, I vacuumed and dusted a little—something I haven’t done since summer.  I told a friend, “You know it’s time to vacuum when the carpet is crunchy.”

Like my computer, I’m still not firing on all cylinders, but we’re both making progress.  Two addled brains are better than one, I guess.  It’s a good thing the cats are in charge.

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