Hysteria in Aisle Two

handmade greeting cards, collage artI woke up yesterday frantic, bolted out of bed and grabbed up my journal.  Something had to be done.  I needed a plan.

The day before I’d stepped on the scale at the Y.  Twenty pounds had crept back on.  I nearly fainted with horror and despair.  Not again, please.  Not again.

So, I sat at my table at 4:30 in the morning, trying to figure it out, trying to find one thread I could pull out of that frayed panic to gather my Will and my focus back together.  Because, I reasoned, if I can’t stop the binging and the food frenzies, then how can I stop myself from compulsively spending?  If I can’t control my spending, I’ll never be able to save for a car.  I’ll be dependent the rest of my life.  If I can’t stop the weight from coming back, I’ve lost and the illness wins.

So, okay, I thought, today—only water with lemon, fruits and vegetables.  I’ll make smoothies.  I’ll stay at the library all day if I have to.  I can do this for one day.  I can.

But, even as I wrote that and meant it, another part of me knew I could never pull it off.  How many times had I tried extreme measures—fasts, cleanses, sudden dietary shocks meant to galvanize the metabolism?  That kind of clamping down on the ravenous feeding only made it worse.  Every time.  I knew, even as I promised myself one day of food sanity, that I was poking a very large animal with a pointy stick.

I white-knuckled it until noon, then found myself at the microwave, making a plate of nachos.

It was a relief, really, to acknowledge my true nature.

Compulsive eating is part of my illness.  So are compulsive spending and sex.  And because they are compulsions, there’s no rational way to get rid of them. Believe me I’ve tried.  My therapist and I have looked at these behaviors from every angle.  The only way I’ve found to work with them is to acknowledge them and give them space.  To hold them with an open hand instead of a closed fist.  Which seems counter intuitive when they are raging.  I want the gobbling to stop, not watch the freak show as it happens.  But, weirdly, watching does help.  It tempers the ferocity and lessens the destruction.

By trying to save money, I’ve put my self in a pressure cooker.  Being poor has always triggered me, so I knew choosing to be even poorer might be dangerous.  But, I also thought that having a goal, something to work toward, might make that stress easier to bear.  Could I temper the panic and the compulsion to spend money?

The answer, it seems, is yes.  But the anxiety and compulsivity squirted sideways in food frenzies.  They will not be denied.

I’m not giving up, though.  I just passed through a couple of ragged days, and it’s hard to watch when the depression, anxiety and mania color the view.  I’m clearer today, and calmer.  The radio in my head has dialed away from the Self-Hatred channel and is back on Easy Listening.  Today, I’m okay about gaining back the weight.  It’s a temporary adjustment to all the stress.  And if it’s not temporary, then, that will have to be okay, too.  I’m going to let it be.  Instead, I’ll turn my attention to the stress itself—the feelings of deprivation and powerlessness, the fear and uncertainty.

I’ll become an Observer, like September on Fringe, changing the outcome just by watching the experiment, noting the effects with a gentle, non-judgmental attitude.  Like September, I can’t be completely objective.  We both care about the outcome of the experiment too much.  And I may keep binging, but at least I won’t be eating raw roast beef sandwiches with seven jalapeños and tabasco sauce.  I still have a little dignity.

Fringe, September

Spontaneous Combustion

This past weekend I experienced rapid cycling (alternating depressive and manic episodes over a short period of time) for the first time since I weaned off all my meds 18 months ago.  And while very uncomfortable, I managed fine.  It did make me wonder about my stress level, though.

Losing weight is stressful for anyone.  Making major behavioral changes is very stressful for anyone.  On top of those, I’ve also eliminated two of my life-long, sure-fire methods of dealing with my bipolar disorder—TV and compulsive eating.  So not only am I under a great deal of stress, but I’ve lost the two most powerful ways of coping with it.  What’s left in my old bag of tricks is compulsive spending and sexual fantasy, which are both shouting for constant attention.

“Hmm,” I pondered, “perhaps I need a bit more support as I tear my life apart.”

So, today I went to my therapist.  Michelle said all the things I knew she’d say, but it was so comforting to hear them out loud:

All these changes are positive and incredibly stressful.

Don’t worry too much about Captain America and The Huntsman hanging out over your shoulder—have fun with them.

Keep journaling and tracking your feelings.

Try not to be rigid—if the agitation gets too big, allow yourself some TV.

Okay, then.  I’m not hallucinating when I hear Chris Hemsworth mumbling behind me.  And I’m not failing when eating my supper sans distraction makes me cry with loneliness.  No.  It’s just me ripping my life apart and feeling the effects.  Feeling, without numbing those feelings, is frightening and painful.  Many days I feel like an open wound.  But, I’m okay.  And the hunks standing behind me are okay.  However, I’m going to keep seeing Michelle for a while.  She knows how to hose me down if I burst into flames.  Everyone needs a buddy with flame retardant.

A Bold, Bad-Ass Move

Turn off the TVWell, for me it is, anyway.  I’ve decided to unplug my TV this week.

As I read through my old journals, pulling out tidbits that might be useful in my next writing project, I see over and over again how I lament over my inability to stop eating while I watch TV.  For decades, I’ve been moaning about this.  For awhile I even lived without a TV (but soon after that I was diagnosed as bipolar, so the jury is still out on whether that additional stress was a good idea or not).

This morning, I berated myself once again for bingeing while channel surfing.  Watching TV is the perfect set up for compulsive eating.  It lulls me, distracts me, siphons away any awareness or consciousness I might have scraped together.  It’s a great tool when my illness is loud and dangerous.  TV is the shiny object that distracts the toddler from sticking her finger in the electrical outlet.

But compulsions rise out of mindlessness.  They operate best in the dark when no one is looking.

I believe the only way I will ever push against my compulsions is to See them.  I have to be alert enough to notice when they show up, feel them in my body, and stay with them long enough to keep from acting blindly.  I may still fall prey to them, but at least I’ll have a fighting chance.

Losing weight is only a small part of why I need to do this.  My compulsions are my Edge right now, the Next Thing in my quest to live a sane life.  Compulsive eating, spending, and sexual fantasy control me.  They are the mindless monsters that take over and use my body and mind.  When the depression and mania come, there’s no stopping them.

Xena Warrior Princess Bad-AssIt’s only now, in the between time, that I have any chance to practice pushing against them.  This is part of my Bad-Ass Training, and like any warrior, I need to be willing to step up to the challenge.  After only one day with the TV silent, I can feel the itch.  I’m uncomfortable and want to be soothed.  Like any habit, this will be hard to kick.  And like everything else in my life, I will succeed and fail.  But, each time I Look, each time I hold the tension between Falling Asleep and Waking Up, I’ll strengthen my sword arm.

I’m on an Adventure.


Mixed-Media collage art

Back when I was a Ministerial Guide at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, I was blessed to be able to celebrate all the holidays of the pagan calendar in community.  I partnered with amazing, talented people to create rituals which drew on ancient tradition and current events.  We used play, dance, music, sacred space, meditation, activities of creation and inner work to mark the holidays as meaningful moments in time.

Part of the Beltane celebration is about bringing together the Masculine and Feminine energies in the act of creation.  Beltane taught me the most about holding the creative energies higher, not letting them sink down into my personality and manifest as sexuality.  I could do it back then.  I could hold a container for others with that energy, and keep it sacred.  I could help folks who were confused about their longings and passions.

But as my illness ramped up, my own sexual compulsions pushed me into dangerous situations and drove my risky behavior.  I might have been able to hold a container for others, but I couldn’t do it for myself.

Beltane reminds me of that past.  But, it also offers me comfort.  Just like my compulsive eating and spending, this symptom of my illness can be tamed if I work at it.  I can step outside the desire and longing, unhook from the fantasies, turn around and simply look at them.  I am more than those things.

There is a part of me that lives in abundance, a part of me that eats only when hungry, and a part of me that welcomes passion as a path to creativity.  This is the community I gather around me today.

I am the Priestess and the Horned God. I am the Sacred Wood where they unite.  I am the Cycle unending.

Bartender, Make It A Double

I don’t get manic very often, not much more than some anxiety mixed with creative juice and maybe a dash of compulsive spending.  But every once in a while, the crazy meter jumps into The Red Zone and the cocktail gets shaken, not stirred.  It always has a sweet flavor at first, so it’s not until I’m into my third or fourth Highball that I start to realize I’m in trouble.

I’ve spent the last three days hunched over a notebook at Haven from the time I got out of water aerobics (around 9:30) until the place closed (6:00), and then kept working at home.  I decided I needed to straighten out the massive genealogy I created for the world in my story, Callinda.  The planet was colonized by fifteen couples from Earth, and I thought it would be a good idea to follow the family lines down through six generations.  That’s thousands of pairings.  When I first made the genealogy, I was in another manic phase (funny how this project keeps intriguing my craziness).  I didn’t repeat the families from one branch to another.  Say, Thaddeus Gibson married Elizabeth Jones.  I recorded the family under the Gibson line and made a note in the Jones line to go check under Gibson.  I thought I was being efficient.  But once the manic buzz wore off, I’d created a monster.  Complicated, unorganized, sometimes the lines tracked and sometimes they didn’t.  Sometimes I mixed up generations.

So this huge project that I thought would help me write the story just became a giant flag stuck in the Country of Wacky.  And it’s not like I need that information anyway.  What I really need are maps, and lists of government officials, and the names of cities.  If there’s any family information that’s at all relevant, it’s who’s in charge of the family lines at the time of the story, not all that other gnat’s ass detail.

But, here I am, hung-over from my biannual manic bender, with an even bigger mess than when I started.  I’ve lost three days in this nutty blackout.  My neck is frozen and my hand spasms from all the teeny writing.  But, I just can’t leave it alone.  I’ve untangled the chaos, and I feel like I need to finish it.  But, I could just stop.  I could put it all away and get on with my life.  But, then I think I’ve done all this work, all this charting, all this cross-referencing.  I need to have something to show for it.  But, it’s irrelevant to the story, which is the ultimate goal.  But… But…

Here’s the good news.  I didn’t hurt anyone or myself.  I didn’t charge my credit card to the limit or empty my bank account.  I didn’t eat myself into a stupor or run to the Kwik Star barefoot.  I didn’t jump into my truck in my nightgown and barrel down the highway.  I didn’t have sex with inappropriate men.  These are all things I’ve done while under the manic influence.  Instead, I scribbled in a notebook while my brain pickled in its own Special Sauce.  Not bad, as far as binges go.  Now, if I could just get this funky taste out of my mouth…

The Secret Compulsion

If compulsive eating makes up one leg on my tripod of avoidance behavior, and compulsive spending the second leg, then sex comprises the third.  It seems to be the tricksiest of my pathological triumvirate, with knots of stringy history wrapped around Cosmic dryer lint.  It carries more shame and more secretiveness than the other two, which makes it more powerful.

From the first time I thought about suicide at age eleven, I believed I’d never survive in the world without a Hero.  At the time, I had no words to describe this feeling, but I didn’t need words to start my Search.  My Holy Grail was the Savior, the Champion, the man who would see how broken I was and put me back together.

I felt a deep wanting, an empty cup in my soul.  If I could only be loved enough, I thought, then the cup would be filled.  Sometimes my desire for love was overwhelming, sometimes it was the compulsion to eat or spend money.  The problem wasn’t the lack of these things, it was the empty cup.  The cup was indiscriminate.  It didn’t care what fed it as long as it got fed.

Over time, I’ve learned the cup itself is an illusion.  Wanting, when it comes, rises out of fear, which becomes something The Observer watches.  The twisted thoughts that tell me I’ll be alone for the rest of my life can be seen, held gently, and untwisted to find the error.  Loneliness, the Dark Sister of sexual desire, reminds me to breathe and Watch.  She leads me back to my true self where I am my own hero.

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