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

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.

Training Checklist: Secure Down Time

The thing about warriors is that they never look very happy.  Saving the world from imminent destruction can make a girl cranky.  Being in constant Fight or Flight status will sap the adrenals and keep a Bad-Ass from staying frosty.  Smart warriors know how to play in between battles.

So, while training to be a Bipolar Bad-Ass, I also need to use this time between episodes to relax and nurture myself.  I need to take time to enjoy feeling good again.  I need to laugh loud and hard, weak bladder be damned.

My body takes a beating during bipolar episodes—insomnia, lack of exercise, poor diet, and physical damage the sense of loneliness can cause (more on that in my next post).  As a person living alone, I miss being touched and touching others.  I’m a natural hugger, but there are social edicts about that.  Getting a massage is the next best thing.  Not only does massage work the toxins out of my soft tissues, untie the knots in my muscles and increase circulation, it also gives me a socially acceptable way to feel the warmth and caring in another human being’s touch. When it has been too long since my last massage, you can find me window shopping for services on sites like http://topmassagechairs.com/ all night long, I then go to bed too late and the cycle continues.

Money being the constant monkey on my back, I can seldom afford a massage.  But my friend, Nancy, has offered to exchange a massage for artwork, which is a glorious gift in so many ways.  I’m so grateful that during this breather between episodes I’ll be able to nurture my body this way.

I also fill my spiritual well.  Most media Bad-Asses don’t worry much about this, but the real life ones do  (Tell me the Dalai Lama doesn’t kick serious butt!).  Depending on my cash flow, I try to get to my weekly meditation group or to the Unitarian Universalist Church a half hour away.  I reach out to my fellow seekers and my spiritual teacher.

Spending time with the people I love, when I’m not scary-crazy, is also required.  But, I’ll do a whole post on that soon.

Then, there are those other people I love.

It may seem contradictory to advocate watching my favorite TV shows when I know TV can liquefy my brain and encourage me eat everything in the apartment.  I could be in deep denial here.  But, there are a couple of shows on TV that simply make my heart sing.  I love the characters.  I love the writing.  I love the camera work and special effects.  These shows make me happy, a rare and precious commodity, so I’m including them (and only them) in my downtime.

It’s easy to get caught up in too many shows.  I can feel the straw reaching out from my set, trying to suck up my gray matter (a red straw, matter of fact, just like Walter’s in the picture above).  I’ve figured out that following three TV shows is my limit, the maximum I can watch without my viewing turning into clinical distraction.  My current three are Fringe, Criminal Minds and the various Star Trek reruns on the SyFy channel.

I’ve discovered that training to be a Bipolar Bad-Ass is as challenging as the illness itself.  I don’t know where the dedication, focus and determination are coming from.  No warrior does, I suppose.  Circumstances conspire to shove those qualities to the forefront.  Sarah Connor was just a perky waitress before the Governator blew her world apart.  Ripley just pushed cargo around outer space.  Once Life brings out the Bad-Ass, there’s no turning back, no unknowing what is now known.  But the constant rigors of training, sandwiched between battles with the Bipolar Bad Guys can wear a girl down.  And even though a warrior can’t go back to being a mere bystander, sometimes a little R and R is in order.

Designation “Lost Cause”

My friend, Lily, has said many times, “Sometimes, all you can do is hang on.”  Once I figured out today was one of those days, I actually felt better.  It took time, though.  I went to the Y and struggled through 90 minutes of water aerobics, then felt exhausted and sick.  I went to my coffee shop determined to work on my Callinda rewrites and could barely hold a pen.  Instead, I wrote in my journal and dug through the slop of my thoughts.

What I found was an abundance of despair and hopelessness.  Like poltergeists, they whispered unintelligibly in my ear.  They created a bleak white noise that made clear thought impossible.  But once I identified them, I knew what to do.  I had to designate today a lost cause and focus exclusively on distracting my attention from the ghoulish nattering in my head.  All projects got pushed aside.  All plans became tentative.

I went to Family Video and rented the first season of Fringe, made a box of Kraft Maccaroni and Cheese, gathered the kitty-boys, and camped out in my comfy chair.  The day passed.  I went to friends’ for dinner.  This is something I do every Monday night, but it was hard to leave my chair, hard to go out in the world, hard to act like I was engaged in their conversation.  Lost Cause days make the simplest acts into obstacles.  I always forget that.

Lily has said that sometimes the best we can hope for is to not make our situation worse, not hurt ourselves.  I think I managed that today.  I will do what I can to get a good night’s sleep and see what tomorrow brings.  Because, in the words of the great philosopher, Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Insanity, Creativity and Living in the Now

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought my life had ended.  And in a very real sense, it did.  Parts of my life fell off like flesh off a zombie–my home, my job, my friends, my ability to support myself, my ability to live independently.  In the months and years that followed, the lessons of living in the NOW and letting go of attachments kept repeating.  Living with bipolar disorder (BP) was like living in a constant fire.  It burned away everything I thought I knew about myself and how the world works.  But with fire comes new growth that could never happen otherwise.  I’m finding that to be true in my life as well.

While I always considered myself a writer, I also became an artist because of BP.  I needed a way to express the chaos I felt and the wild shifts from despair to joy and back again.  My study of the world’s religions deepened.  I explored the science and metaphysics of the brain.  I also fell in love with “Criminal Minds” and “Fringe.”

I invite you to journey with me into the overlapping realms of mental illness, creativity and spirituality.  There will be fire and ice, but also miracles.

Of that I’m certain.

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