Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, Revised—Part 1

Never get Too Tired, Too Hungry or Too Rigid.  That’s one of my new mottos (Another is Laugh ’til You Lose Urine, but that’s a different post).  So in my quest to avoid rigor mortis, I’ve incorporated a few of Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts and ideas into my personal Bipolar Bad-Ass Training Regimen.

It’s been six months since I first set up some guidelines for making the best of my time between bipolar episodes.  Those checklists and goals have served me really well, but there’s always room for improvement.  Plus, our needs and priorities change, and I don’t want to be stuck hanging on to an old ideal when it no longer fits.  That way lies madness and a surplus of guilt and shame.  Pass.

Clean Eating is still a big priority for me, and continues to be elusive.  I feel like I’ve come a long way in fostering my Will, but bipolar episodes and my recent illness threw me right back into compulsive behavior, which starts and ends with non-stop eating of the worst possible crap.  There’s no easy answer to this one, I’m afraid, just awareness and diligence and gentleness.

My thoughts and plans for Strength and Stamina still hold true.  If anything, I’m more determined than ever to exercise every day and add more activity to my daily life.  I also have a physical tomorrow, so I made a list of things to discuss with my doc—how to deal with this persistent recurring bronchitis (allergy testing?), removing a benign but growing cyst in my armpit, and getting the regular blood work and tests out of the way.  It’s part of Doing What Needs To Be Done (another motto).

When I looked at my priorities, I found I needed to make an adjustment.  I always thought I’d go back to school for a Master’s Degree, but it’s just not realistic for me anymore.  My ECT—induced reading disability seems to be holding fast and my financial situation hardly supports a return to college.  It was an old dream that just doesn’t fit who I am now.

My priorities now are Writing, Making Art and Growing.  My goals are to finish my novel, Callinda, by the end of the year and continue to blog at least every other day; make art every day and start drawing again.  As for continuing to grow, I’ve got a couple of things in mind.  I want to call the Animal Rescue League and see if I could volunteer a little bit.  I’m curious about other writers who love fan fiction and plan to research that.  Maybe I’ll find a kindred spirit or two.  I plan to spend more time at the public library, reading magazines I would never normally pick up.  I want to start at the beginning of the racks and work my way through them all.  I can’t wait to soak up all that new stimulation.  And lastly, I want to find a local chapter of the Sweet Adelines.  I miss singing, and maybe they’d take a croaky alto.  We’ll see.

One thing Gretchen Rubin did to keep her accountable to her new resolutions was to create a chart where she could track her daily activities.  She said the steady reminders kept her focused and the gold stars and check marks as she accomplished her goals kept her motivated.  I don’t know that I need more motivation than living saner, but I thought I’d try tracking my progress.  I loaded up my new iCalendar program so I can see at a glance what I’m doing and what I’m avoiding.  Meh.  We’ll see if the motivation outweighs the nuisance.

Big Brother Addiction

Hi.  My name is Sandy.  And I’m a Big Brother addict.

I believe Reality TV is the scourge of television.  It panders to our lowest animal instincts, serving up people acting their worst and getting famous for it.  But, America loves a train wreck, and watching people behave like two-year olds in dangerous grown-up bodies seems to be the wreck of choice.

I, alas, am no exception.

I started watching Big Brother the summer after I moved home to Marshalltown.  I was still loopy from ECT treatments I had that winter, and changing medications every two or three months.  I was not in my right mind, okay?  I couldn’t help myself.

Cast of Big Brother, Season 13

I don’t know about other reality shows (because I don’t watch them), but Big Brother puts people in a pressure cooker, then records the results for all the world to see.  Players start out with integrity and compassion, but over the course of the summer, lose that to the drive to survive in the game.  They forget they’re playing a game, and take the posturing and manipulation of others personally.

And then the stress just gets to folks, so emotional outbursts and fights become more common as the season advances.  Some players enter the game with every intention of lying and cheating their way to the end, but the surprising friendships they develop with other players completely changes their strategy.  Alliances form, dissolve, and reform.  “Show-mances” develop, romantic relationships squeezed out by all that forced intimacy.  It’s all very human.  And fascinating.

This past Thursday night, my favorite player got evicted from the Big Brother house.  Jeff Schroeder first played Big Brother two years ago.  He developed a show-mance with fellow player, Jordan Lloyd, which was chaste (Jordan would only let him kiss her on the cheek) and sweet.  He sacrificed plays in the game for her, and she faithfully supported him.  Their romance continued off-screen, and Big Brother invited them back this season.

Like the other players in the pressure cooker of Big Brother, Jeff lost his temper, took things personally, and fought hard in competitions.  But, unlike most others, he never lost his integrity.  He talked straight and kept his word.  He stayed loyal to those in his alliance, even when they didn’t act in his best interest.  He continued to treat Jordan with respect, acting as her protector and partner.  Jeff maintained his sense of humor and his perspective, and always found his way back to Center.

I imagine when players recover from the trauma of participating in Big Brother, they must be embarrassed, or at the very least see they’re not quite the kind/honorable/humane people they thought they were.

I imagine some of their parents must wear disguises to the grocery store.  But, when I think of Jeff’s family, I can only imagine how proud they are.  He’s an unlikely role model, a Reality TV version of The Hero.  He was a surprise treasure amidst the train wreckage strewn across TVland, and I wish him well. (Go, Jordan!)

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 30

My computer is a remnant of my old life, before psychotropic drugs, before electroshock, before my world went blewie.  Back in 2004, this iMac was state of the art, and it continues to be a workhorse for me.  There are new-fangled things it can’t do, but I’m not so new-fangled either, so it’s limitations suit me fine.

Back in February, when I launched this blog, I had no idea what I was doing, only that it seemed like the next step in both managing my bipolar disorder and moving out into the world again.  Every day, I sat at my trusty iMac, and ideas for posts came.  I gave little thought to who might actually read my words, only that they were necessary, true and free to travel the cybersphere.

Then, I started to hear from you.  Through my old iMac, I discovered a world of talented, complex people who caught my words as they drifted past and allowed them into their hearts.  I became acquainted with you, then fell in love with you.  Your struggles and joys, your compassion and sincerity, your acceptance and understanding poured from my computer.  I was shocked.  I was humbled.  And I was so very grateful.

As I finish my Gratitude Challenge today, I offer up my deepest thanks and appreciation for those of you who read these words, whether you breeze by or stop and hang out for a while.  Like most things I’m grateful for, this gift of community was unexpected and life-altering.

Namaste

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 5

My best friend since 8th grade, Cheryl and I have gone through teenage angst, collage catastrophes, first marriages, new homes, new jobs, ups and downs and kitty-corners together with our own special blend of laughter, swearing, creativity and verve.  When she married Tom in 1984, I knew he was the perfect Yang to her Yin.  Gregarious, opinionated, passionate and dedicated to living a compassionate life he complimented Cheryl’s introspective nature, her far-flung creativity and style, and her deeply loving and generous heart.

They were instrumental in managing my move home after my ECT treatments in Minnesota.  And after 9 months of trying to live on my own and failing, they took me into their home to live for almost 3 years.  They found me when I tried to kill myself and got me to the hospital.  And they continue to support and love me on this journey.  To say I’m grateful for them sounds puny in my mind.  Pile on top of that love, devotion, more love and—oh, yeah—love, and the feel of “grateful” starts to fit a little better.

If You Meet Carrie Fisher on the Road, Kill Her

I’ve always thought this would be a fabulous title for my book.

Carrie Fisher works triple duty for me as a metaphor-carrier.  She’s bipolar, obese and has that old Star Wars twinkle.  And if the Buddhist reference flies over some people’s heads, that’s okay, because the literal statement works for me, too.

When Carrie’s book Wishful Drinking came out, I rushed to get it.  Princess Leia was bipolar and telling the world!  I liked her other books and her humor, so I expected this book to be a winner.  But, alas, no.  At least not for me.

The pain behind her humor is clear and heart-wrenching.  I identified with her struggles and craziness.  But when she said electro-convulsive therapy saved her life, I threw the book away. ECT destroyed my brain and my life.  Reading about someone who swears by it, who gets zapped on a regular basis to control her symptoms, made me physically ill.

I find it interesting that while on tour with her one-woman show based on Wishful Drinking, Carrie’s weight ballooned.  It must have been difficult to dip into the horrors of her disease night after night, and I know as well as anyone that going unconscious with food is one way to deal with horror.  So, now she’s the new spokesperson for Jenny Craig.  And we all know how well that worked for Kirstie Alley.

Carrie, Carrie, Carrie.  We are sisters in so many ways.  I applaud your strength and your ability to pick yourself up and keep searching for the Answer.  I love that you never give up, even in the worst of times.  I love that you’ve kicked alcohol and drugs, temptations that most folks with bipolar disorder have to deal with.  Keep workin’ it, girlfriend.  If you ever need to come rub my belly, I’m here for you.

Training Checklist: Set Priorities

The next area to master in my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training is something that strikes fear in the hearts of mere mortals.  The dreaded D word.

Discipline.

We hear that word and piddle ourselves, run away as fast as our quivering legs can take us.  Discipline means something we love is about to be snatched away, some sacrifice demanded.  And not in a nice way.

But actually, discipline means adding something positive to our lives, not taking something away.

These stable periods between episodes give me time to catch my breath, but I generally slide through them with a mind-set of entitlement.  The Universe owes me this time to rest.  As a Bad-Ass, I’m starting to look at this time a bit differently.

Every Bad-Ass has a mission, whether it’s blowing up zombies or making the world save from Visigoths.  They don’t mewl about whether the world is fair.  They don’t stray from their task.  They stay on target and get it done.  As a Bad-Ass, I had to take a look at my life and my mission.  What’s important to me?  How can I use this time between episodes to further my cause?   What do I need to do to get it done?

My mission is three-fold: Write, Make Art, and Go Back to School.

I currently have thee novels in various stages of completion.  They’ve been in these stages for several years.  While I write every day, I don’t always write on my novels.  Today, I move them to the top of my priority list.  I want them done.  I want to post them in my Heaving Bosoms pages on this blog.  The only way to do that is to write on them—every day.

Making collage and mixed-media art feeds my soul, but I also want to reclaim my old skills in drawing and painting.  The task is daunting to me because I was told many times that I couldn’t draw.  I flunked Art in high school.  Would that stop a Bad-Ass?  Hell, no.  Most would just whip out the shot-gun and put a hole in the art teacher (okay, let’s stay metaphoric and not go Columbine on any teacher’s ass).  In order to draw and paint, in order to grow as an artist, I have to make art—every day.

My long-term goal is to go back to school and get a master’s degree in psychology.  Aside from the financial hurdles, I’ll never be able to do that if I can’t read.  My ECT-induced reading disability has gotten better since I started working with a reading teacher, but getting better requires practice.  Reading is hard work.  I don’t enjoy it like I used to, but as a Bad-Ass I need to do it to reach my goal.  So the third item on my priority list is to read—every day.

This is my mission.  It won’t save the world, end wars or even help a kid struggling with school.  But this is what I want in my life, and I don’t have the luxury of time to add nobler or more heroic causes to the list.  I can get up every morning, focus, and actually do these three things.  I can use this training time to further my goals instead of flailing around, wishing I could do something “important.”

A Bad-Ass’ mission is always important, even if only to herself.

Training Checklist: Clean Eating

This isn’t Bipolar Boot Camp.  Been there, done that, got the ECT burns.  This is the survival training that comes after that, the Do It Or Die conditioning, the stuff I personally have to do to get myself ready for the next episode.  Part healing, part emotional strength training, part preparing the physical vessel.

The first thing to attend to is my diet.  After being sick most of the winter and basically giving up on eating in any rational, balanced way, there’s lots of mop up to do here.  While I’m not an advocate of any particular diet, there is wisdom to be found in several places.  Dr. Daniel Amen has lots of good advice about eating for the health of one’s brain (just dodge his tacky self-promotion and stick to the articles).

As a compulsive eater or food addict, I already know more than the average consumer about food (hey, it’s a hobby!).  I know all the diets, all the tricks, all the latest miracle cures for obesity, all the medical facts.  Putting this vast knowledge into practice is another side of beef entirely.  But, I’m in training now, and practice is exactly what I need to do.  A non-rabid form of clean eating seems healthiest and easiest for me.  The tenets are these: Eat the freshest food available— fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains.  Stay away from slop (like Cheetos and Chips Ahoy) and processed food.  Drink more water.  Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Eating clean requires that I cook, which often makes me anxious, but I’m in training so cooking is what I will do.  While in training, for as long as this non-episodic period lasts, it feels vital that I push myself.  How will I ever make important changes in my life if I don’t push?  So, no excuses, no forgetting, no slacking off.  This window of opportunity won’t stay open forever.  I’ve got to get as much out of it as I can.

Books I Read in 2010

Since I’m working on my ECT-induced reading disability, I thought it might be interesting (okay, maybe only in my mind), to look back at which books I actually slogged all the way through.  I keep a list of book recommendations in my journal, but I’m not sure I remember all the ones I actually read.  Here’s my stab at it.

  1. Amen, Daniel. Change Your Brain, Change Your Body.  Part self-help, part neuroscience, Dr. Dan has lots of new information about brain health.
  2. Cain, Chelsea. Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart.  I got hooked on this series about a detective tracking a female serial killer and their very twisted relationship.  If you like serial killers (and who doesn’t?!), you’ll like these.
  3. Card, Orson Scott.  Magic Street and Treasure Box.  One of my favorite SF/Fantasy authors, but neither of these are his best work.
  4. Chabon, Michael. Werewolves in Their Youth.  Great short stories (not about werewolves, though).
  5. Dobyns, Stephen. The Church of Dead Girls.  Great murder mystery.
  6. King, Stephen.  Under the Dome.  Ahhhhhhh.
  7. Oates, Joyce Carole. Zombie.  Amazing first-person story about the making of a sociopath.
  8. Proulx, Annie. The Shipping News. Great characters, itchy story, interesting psychology.
  9. Roth, Geneen.  Women, Food and God. Help with compulsive eating.
  10. Stef, Penney. The Tenderness of Wolves.  Interesting mystery set in early 19th century Canada.
  11. Tolle, Eckhart.  The Power of Now and The New Earth.  Non-fiction about consciousness.  Tolle’s writing is often vague and circular, but the second book is easier to read.
  12. Walsh, Peter. Enough Already.  Non-fiction about reducing clutter.
  13. Waysink, Brian. Mindless Eating.  Scientific studies done on what triggers automatic eating.  Interesting.
  14. Whitaker, Robert. Anatomy of an Epidemic. This is the book that convinced me to go off my psych meds.

I am Delicious

One of the things I continue to struggle with as a person with bipolar disorder is my sense of value as a human being.  The distorted thinking wraps around this vulnerability and really dances a tango.  At one time or another, the illness stripped away every aspect of myself that I valued or believed the world at large valued—my ability to work and make money, my ability to live independently, my ability to manage my own finances, my ability to read, my memory, my creativity, my marriage, my friends, my home. For me, the overriding disability of bipolar disorder is the inability to be consistent with anything—to keep appointments, to maintain a routine, to be counted on.

My therapist banned the word productivity from my vocabulary early on.  I constantly worried about being productive.  I wanted to volunteer at the high school to tutor kids with poor English skills, but I knew I might not be able to keep appointments with those kids.  I wanted to work at the calendar kiosk at the mall this Christmas to make a little more money, but I couldn’t keep the work schedule.  I wanted to make art every day, but  some days I could only manage to take a shower.  I felt like a leech on society, a burden, a problem my family had to solve.  So, productivity became a casualty in the bipolar battle. I had to change my definition of value.

Part of the transition came when I started to accept the illness itself.  When the symptoms came, the sadness or the twisted thinking, I could say, “this is the illness” instead of “this is me.”  I started to understand that the illness required care.  Too many expectations, too many commitments, too much stress made it worse.  I had to learn to be gentle with myself, accepting, and flexible.

Each time the illness took away some part of me I valued, I was forced to acknowledge that I’d invested my identity in that piece.  When I lost the ability to read after ECT, I was hysterical inside.  My intelligence was me.  I slowly came to see that I was much more than my language skills or my ability to comprehend.  There was a part of me, an essence, that the illness could never destroy.

In his book, Diamond Heart, Book One: Elements of the Real in Man, A.H. Almaas talks about Value.

For most people, value is the value of the superego…it depends a lot on our unconscious, our imprinting, our beliefs.  What governs most valuing is seeking pleasure and voiding pain.  That means all your defensive mechanisms are valued very much, all your resistances.  You’ve spent years building up all your ideas of how you should be, how you are, how the world should be.  These long-cherished dreams of how things should be and what you should get in your life, are of course mostly based on experiences of deficiency in childhood.

One thing we can observe about our values is that they change over time.  You might fall in love, feel that you value a person, and two years later you don’t like him anymore.  Did the person change?  Not necessarily, maybe not at all.  So what changed his value for you?  Value is something you attribute to objects, or people, or activities.  So it must be something you have in you.  We want to go to the source of value.  We want to understand what it is in us that values.

Value-as-such is an aspect of essence.  My value is independent of what my superego or anybody else’s superego says.  It is independent of what happens.  My value is independent of whether I am married or single, whether I have one car or ten cars or a bicycle, whether someone loves me or not, whether I’m happy or unhappy, dead or alive, sick or healthy.  Value, existing as value, is separate from these things.

Looking for value is looking for oneself.  When you see yourself as value, it becomes much easier to let the essence really unfold, in its beauty, its majesty, its grandeur, with its pleasures and joys.  You will see, when you experience value in yourself, that value is the ground, the basis, of what we call the personal essence, what is in you that is you.

Value is so definite, so palpable, that it has a color, and a taste, and a texture.  When you experience yourself as value, you’ll see that you are delicious.

Listen, Listen

 
  

Listen, Listen

This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.—Thich Nhat Hahn

Long ago and far away, I practiced sacred sound.  I led meditations using sound and chant.  I taught classes and workshops on vibrational metaphysics.  I used sound in hands-on healing.  I studied with respected sound researchers and practitioners.  Sound, toning, singing, chant, and music were a big part of my life.

When I got sick, that all went away.  Whether the ECT fried a connection, or the medications changed my brain chemistry, or some other shift occurred, the knowledge was still there, and a few of the memories, but the skills and spiritual connection disappeared.  Now I look back on that life (what I can remember of it) like Scooby Do—”Rrr?”  There’s no sadness or sense of loss, just wonder.  Was that really me?  Huh.

One thread from that old life travelled with me during the worst of my illness.  Music.  Some days all I could do was lie on my bed and listen to music.  But, my tastes changed.  I turned away from the chakra-balancing, chi-enhancing CDs in my little library.  I craved rock and roll.

It was as if my Music Brain tried to reboot and called up an old operating system.  I wanted James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, the musicians I listened to when I was in junior high school.  I wanted Three Dog Night and Neil Diamond.   But most of all, I wanted The Eagles.

I never paid much attention to the band as a teenager, but all of a sudden, their music soothed me like no other.  Don Henley’s gravelly poetry and Glenn Frey’s wavering tenor gave me a foundation to rest upon.  I felt stretched out like a lake on the boys’ close harmonies.  I played Hell Freezes Over and Long Road Out of Eden over and over and over…

Music is a powerful healing tool.  I’ve seen it perform miracles.  But, I never understood what a lifeline it can be.  Those dark days, lying on my bed, I could feel the rope music threw me.  It kept me attached to the earth, to life.  It included me when I felt isolated.  It gave me the extra link to take a breath and stay.

Like Don and Glenn sing:

Say goodbye to all your pain and sorrow • Say goodbye to all those lonely nights • Say goodbye to all your blue tomorrows • Now you’re standing in the light • I know sometimes you feel so helpless • Sometimes you feel like you can’t win • Sometimes you feel so isolated • You’ll never have to feel that way again ••• You are not alone.

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