Psychic Acne

I woke up this morning from a high school reunion dream.  This is not a good way to start the day.  But, it feels more like a subconscious zit coming to a head after churning through current events.  So, I’m hoping I can just give it a good scrub and move along.

I tried my hand at another old skill yesterday—public speaking.  My mom asked me to talk to her social club about bipolar disorder.  So, I put together a presentation and, after the huge potluck, gave my spiel.  I think it went well.  No one nodded off after all the cheesy potatoes and macaroni salads.  And several people had questions or wanted to talk about grandchildren or friends who had BP.  I always figure that’s a good sign when a speaker can get folks to talk.  Others came to me privately afterward to discuss the material in more depth.  That felt right, too.

Discussing mental illness is frightening to some, fascinating to others.  The freak-show aspect of it can be a big draw.  If I can be articulate and funny while also candid about how the illness manifests for me, I like to think I humanize a condition that’s usually kept secret.  That’s my hope anyway, and I think I was pretty successful yesterday.

But, I was exhausted afterward.  And wired.  Telling my story always effects me that way.  Even though I’m completely comfortable being “out” as a person with bipolar disorder, there’s still an element of risk in telling my tale.  I share intimate details with strangers, then give them permission to make comments about my life.  It’s a vulnerable situation.

On my way home, I stopped to check out a new chiropractor.  I injured my shoulder years ago, and the laps I swam to recover my range of motion after surgery woke up that old injury.  The pain in my neck and shoulder was only getting worse, so I knew I needed to take care of it.  My former chiropractor stopped accepting Medicare, so he wasn’t an option.  I had to find someone new.  Dr. Beane and his wife led the Unitarian Universalist service on Sunday.  When I learned he was a chiropractor, I grooved on the synchronistiy and found his office.

So, once more I had to tell my story—different focus, but life events are life events.  He listened thoughtfully, then went about his business.  The scar tissue and inflammation around my shoulder had progressed so far they had pulled the bone out of the socket.  Dr. Beane said I had a significant “droop shoulder” and worked to snap it back into place.

I’m encouraged and in less pain this morning, though it will take several sessions to reap the full effects.  Money will be an issue.  His office requires full payment up front, then Medicare will reimburse me for whatever percentage they cover.  Money—the constant worry.  But it seems important to take care of his injury before heading in for another surgery.  I feel like I need as many parts of me strong and in working order as possible to compensate for the upcoming restrictions and pain.

So, I’m not surprised that my brain churned out a fussy, uncomfortable dream about feeling vulnerable and judged. Today—observe and get some Clearasil.

The Dance

Still plugging away here in Bipolarville.  I’m fine as long as I don’t have to talk to anybody or think.  This is why routine is so important.  I don’t have to think about going to the Y, I just go.  I don’t have to think about working on my novel or making cards, I just do it.  Because I’ve carved out those little grooves in my gray matter, and the marbles just follow gravity.

Interacting with people is another thing.  Friday I had dinner at a friend’s house.  It was just the two of us and his sweet little dog, so I knew I’d be okay on the social anxiety front.  I also knew I could be myself.  Even though Jeff had never experienced the full beauty of my bipolarness, I knew he’d be accepting of whatever showed up.

We had a lovely evening, but it was still work.  Simple things that come naturally between episodes required thought, effort, execution.  Things like manners and following a conversation.  When something struck me funny, I felt my laughter launching into that maniacal, uncontrollable realm.

At one point, Jeff mentioned he could tell I wasn’t my usual self.  His term for it was that I wasn’t as “smiley.”  And that surprised me, because I thought I was ever-so jolly.  It just reminded me that how I perceive myself from the inside, no matter how much effort I put into it, is very different from what leaks into the outside world.

I did a lot on Friday.  My friend, Nancy, gave me a much-needed massage.  I went to a movie.  I looked through my favorite art magazines at Barnes & Noble.  I found a state park tucked away in the suburbs of Des Moines and journaled at a picnic table in the westering sun.  And I had dinner with Jeff.  So, I wasn’t surprised at my exhaustion the next day.  I could feel how brittle my tolerance had become, as if my sanity had been rubbed thin by so much exposure to the world.

It’s a weird dance, staying upright during an episode.  I think I’m executing a graceful turn, when really I’m tripping over my own feet.  I’m only guessing at the steps.  But there is a deep knowing under it all.  If I can get still, I can feel the rhythm and recognize the music.  If I can breathe into that knowing, my feet will find their way.

Yesterday

I’m managing.

And suddenly, I’m not.

Bam!  The pain overpowers me.  Rational thought scatters.  Awareness shrinks to a tiny hole.  At my chiropractor’s office I lay crying into the face slit of his treatment table, pinned there by acupuncture needles, trampled by runaway despair.  I focus on the snot stringing from my nose, the tissue paper on the table sticking to my wet face, anything but the flood of emotion—that sickening sense of drowning.  I try to stay present, to surf instead of sink.  What should I do next?  How do I get through this day?

But the roar of the flood is deafening.  I can’t hear myself think.  A plan forms and smashes against the rocks.  I can only grab at wreckage as it slams past.  Nothing will work, I think and immediately know that’s not true.  Hold on, I hear my friend Lily’s voice say.  How do I hold on?

Oblivion is the only answer.  Find something louder than the storm, something that will push it into the background.  I drive across the street to the movie theater and stay there all day.  Super 8 pushes the noise back, and I sink into the story.  Sweet, exhilarating, new.  Then, I wait in the bathroom for a few minutes and sneak into X-Men: First Class.  Again.  I want it again.  I know what to expect, but I want the bits I missed.  I see more, hear more.  Swallow it like food.  The noise in my head and my body stays quiet, acquiesces to the story, the images, the thundering explosions, the music.

When it ends, I hurry out, focused on not getting caught, but in the parking lot the flood screams back in.  I sit in my truck and clutch the steering wheel, sobbing, hanging on, waiting for a break in the storm, a chance to pull a thought out of the chaos.  What next?  What next?

I drive to Tom and Cheryl’s for supper with their family.  I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.  But, I do.  Tom greets me, asks me if I’ll take care of the dogs while they’re away this weekend.  Of course I will, but in my mind Dogs, Care, House fragment and skitter away.  “Write it down for me,” I tell him.  “I can’t think today.”

I sit out in the front room, away from the noise of HGTV, away from Cheryl’s silence that I’m turning into a slight.  I try to read Geneen Roth’s new book about compulsion.  She says:

Obsession is a form of autism, a way to cover our ears and block out the background noise, a way to protect ourselves when the situation feels vulnerable or dangerous or anxiety producing.  Obsession is a way to change the channel when you don’t like what’s barreling across the screen of your mind.

Maybe, I think.  But what if you have to change the channel to survive?

At those moments, my life belongs to the unconscious associations I’ve made, the particular way my psyche has equated love with buying, stillness with despair.  Survival trumps good intentions every time.  When the imperative to shop (or eat or drink or take drugs) takes over, nothing else exists.  It’s why diets don’t work, budgets get thrown out, credit-card debt keep accumulating.  The momentary imperative of survival will always, in every situation, hijack long-range perspective.

…the only way through [the imperative] is awareness itself.  Which means that instead of reacting in the same ways to the same needs, I begin widening the perspective.  I realize I have other choices… It takes time.  It takes willingness to tolerate discomfort.  It takes motivation to see through the patterns.  It takes the courage to actually see that we don’t want to see.  It also takes confidence that it is possible to get to the other side.

Yes, but what if under the discomfort of obsession lies mental illness?  There is no “other side” to mental illness.  There’s only bringing awareness to it and stripping back the distorted thinking.  Again and again and again.  Pulling off the black thoughts and flinging them away like leeches so the swelling and shrinking flood can be seen.

I see you, I say to the raging storm inside me.  Crying, I shut the book.  I walk into the TV room and watch HGTV with my friends.

BodyTalk

Snow drifts down outside.  Just a dusting.  Just enough to remind us Winter lingers even though Spring slides Her warm hand along His back.

There’s a gray, peaceful rightness to the morning.  My mirror.

Yesterday, I went to see a BodyTalk practitioner.  Several of my trusted friends have been talking about her for years.  So, in my new quest for alternative ways to manage my bipolar disorder, I decided to buy a session.  This was a huge financial decision since the session’s cost of $75 will eliminate everything but the bare essentials for the next month.  (No paying down on my Visa card or that stupid hospital bill until April.)  So, it was a big commitment, but I was determined to dive in and follow whatever instructions given me.

What I understand about BodyTalk is that it combines a lot of different modalities—the energy dynamics of acupuncture, osteopathic and chiropractic philosophy (also practiced at Be Well Chiropractic), kinesiology, Western medicine, medical intuition, physics, and mathematics.  The goal is to bring the body back into balance and make sure all the different parts are communicating with each other, especially the two hemispheres of the brain.

I found the one hour session to be quite powerful.  Practitioner Fonda Hall of Des Moines gave me an extensive history to fill out.  Then, with a gentle laying on of hands, tapping, and instructing me in particular eye movements, she zeroed in on my key emotional/physical issues.  At times I felt anxious, at times my stomach roiled, but mostly I felt calm.  When I left, I felt normal.

I was wide awake all night.  Not tossing or turning, just laying there, petting Henry who always knows when I’m awake and available for scritching.  And this morning… nothing.  Just this sense of peaceful rightness.  Chores done, apartment straightened, I’m simply fine.  The thought of having no money to work with this month feels wee and far instead of an elephant sitting on my chest.  Whether or not the podiatrist can help my pain seems irrelevant now that the splint he put on my foot is in the trash.  The probability that I’ll be alone all weekend doesn’t trip any panic switches or morph into loneliness.  My story revisions call me to come dance.  The collage I’m working on whispers answers about how to proceed.  I have plenty of playmates here.

But, there is something going on with my stomach.  I’m aware of it—a hollowness, a largeness, that makes me want to not eat.  This could be a first.

Fonda said it would take at least 24 hours to feel the full effects of the session.  So, I’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Jigsaw Puzzle

One of the problems with Western medicine is its view of the human being as a machine.  Change-out the faulty gear and fix the machine.  Patch the leak in the hose and fix the machine.  Cut out the appendix. Medicate the schizophrenia.  Exercise to prevent another heart attack.

Eastern and alternative medicine view human beings as whole systems.  Trauma affects psychology affects physiology affects lifestyle affects spirituality.  Genetics, environment, and pollutants act on the mind.  Prayer, sound, and mental stress act on the body. Changes in the body affect the mind.  Every part of us is interconnected in ways quantum physics, psychology, and religious studies have only begun to discover.

Twenty or so years ago, a drunk driver hit me.  My face hit the windshield, and I ended up with chronic neck and back pain.  When I started on antidepressants, that pain went away.  It wasn’t until I stopped taking medications this past fall, and the pain came back, that I remembered I even had it once.  But, when I told my psychiatrist, he brushed me off.  “Maybe you have fibromyalgia,” he said.

Two years ago, I got serious about exercise.  I started walking at the Y for thirty minutes every day (I had to start somewhere).  I developed pain in my heel.  I got new shoes and told myself the pain would go away once I lost some weight.  But, when I stopped taking medication for my bipolar disorder, the heel pain got worse, too.  So, yesterday, I went to a podiatrist.

“You’ve got several things going on,” he told me.  “Achilles tendonitis, outward rotation of the left leg, and pronation of the left foot.  There’s probably someone else in your family with these same genetic defects.”  So, he taped a splint on the bottom of my foot and told me to wear it until I see him next week.

Since my neck and back sang with bright pain, I went to my chiropractor right after that.  Dr. Ozzie is a quiet, mild-mannered man, who usually says very little.  But yesterday he asked lots of questions about my visit with the foot doctor.  He was supportive of me going off medication, and now we’re working at keeping my nervous system healthy with chiropractic to see how that affects my bipolar symptoms.  After his adjustment, I went home and slept for five hours.

The deeper I explore this path of bipolar disorder, the more side trails open up.  The body throws out clues.  Signs point in different directions, but the trails seem to meet up farther down the road.

Medical intuitive Carolyn Myss says:

…every second of our lives—and every mental, emotional, creative, physical, and even resting activity with which we fill those seconds—is somehow known and recorded.  Every judgment we make is noted.  Every attitude we hold is a source of positive or negative power for which we are accountable.

The lesson for me is to remain curious and open, not to lunge at a solution and cling to it as The Answer To All My Problems.  As a nurse, trained in Western medicine, my default reaction is to look for the Fix, the pill, the surgery, the replacement valve that will make my machine run smoothly again.  But as a student of Eastern medicine, someone who has practiced energetic healing and meditation, I can hold the jigsaw puzzle without needing the entire picture to be clear.  It’s enough that some of the pieces are coming together.

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