Books I Read in 2011

It’s a short list, but I’m thrilled that I’ve tackled some “adult” novels and non-fiction.  I’m also finding that Juveniles rarely hold my attention, even though they’re easier for my ECT-fried brain to digest.  I just end up wanting to slap those pouty, whiny teenagers silly.  Oh, well.

I didn’t include all the books I started and stopped.  Lots of those.

Hoping to get even more books read in 2012!

  1. Greene, Bob. The Life You Want.  Oprah’s body guru on fitness, weight loss and “happiness.”  Some good stuff.  Nothing you haven’t heard before.
  2. King, Stephen. Full Dark, No Stars.  Four novellas.  Excellent King.
  3. Larsson, Stieg.  The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Wow.  The movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was my introduction to Larsson, and I had to try to read the books.  To my delight, this book slipped through my reading disability like water.  Love the protagonist.  Love the setting.  Love the bad guys.  Love it all.  Must have more!
  4. Martin, George R.R. Wild Cards, Book One.  Shared universe anthology about folks in the 1950-1960’s with genetic mutations—the making of superheroes and supervillans.  Interesting.
  5. Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight.  Okay, okay, I succumbed.  In my quest to read juvenile books, I had to see what all the fuss was about.  I must say I liked the book’s clumsy, sweet Bella much better than the wooden, petulant actroid that played her in the movies.  But, there was w-a-y too many longing looks and brushing of the lips with cold fingers.  Even for me, the Heaving Bosom Queen.
  6. Oates, Joyce Carol.  We Were the Mulvaneys.  Set in the 1970s, this is an amazing study of the disintegration of a strong family after the daughter’s assault.
  7. Ouspensky, P.D. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.  These are transcripts of five lectures that outline the Gurdjieffian method of raising consciousness and spiritual development.  If you dig spiritual evolution, an interesting read.
  8. Pullman, Philip.  The Golden Compass.  The first book on my list of “Juveniles”.  I loved the world Pullman created—so much like Earth, but with interesting differences.  There are two more books in the series.  I’ll probably read the next one.
  9. Rubin, Gretchen.  The Happiness Project.  So-so memoir by a whiny New Yorker trying to cultivate gratitude.  She does offer some good ideas, though.
  10. Shpano, Noam. The Good Psychologist. Interesting protagonist, interesting psychology.
  11. Smith, Dean Wesley and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Enterprise: By the Book.  One of the early novels based on the Star Trek: Enterprise series.  A good plot.  Interesting for this Trekker to see how the characters are handled when no one knew them very well yet.

Here, There Be Dragons

I think I’m moving out of the current bipolar episode.  I’m not sure, which feels disconcerting and new.  Usually, there’s a clear demarkation—the mood lifts, energy returns, thinking clears.  But, this time I seem to be seeping both ways at once like paint on watercolor paper.  I’m able to get things done—going to appointments, remembering to take back my library book, writing my novel—but my body aches and my energy is low.  My mood seems to be fluctuating more into the higher/brighter ranges, but a sudden Dark and Dangerous thought will still blow in and try to take over.  The compulsions are quiet, but my mind wants to fret about them anyway.

This is a different kind of in-between place for me.  Or is it?  Maybe I’ve just forgotten what happened last time.  Maybe I just slid through this phase faster when I was medicated.  Maybe other life-events or physical conditions have tweaked the process this time.  Maybe the mild weather fiddled with my internal barometer.  Maybe the stars are aligned a little differently.  Maybe…

If there’s one thing I know about bipolar disorder, it’s that it never stays the same.  So, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m moving through the cycle in a new way.  I don’t think I’m alone in wanting the comfort of familiarity, to be able to place myself on a known continuum.  Silly girl.  Just when I think I’ve got this illness mapped, a whole new vista opens up.  Like the ancient explorers, I’ve got sound sea craft in my head, a tough ship, and curiosity.  I’ll hoist my sails and see where the winds take me.

A Mental Hidey-Hole

The sense of this episode is one of being overwhelmed.  It’s like my brain has lost all elasticity and resilience.  I’m unable to problem-solve even small hiccups in the day much less figure out how to deal with unusual tasks.  My cognitive ability seems mired in glue, and at the same time my body perceives each decision to be made as a threat.

For example, the apartment management notified us that the bedbug-sniffing dog would be coming around to all the apartments today.  They do this every 3-4 months, since we have a history of infestation.  Still, it’s an ordeal, since I have to pack up the cats and all their paraphernalia two hours before the dog arrives.  Usually I take them to a friends’ house, but they’re having work done on their basement, so I had to devise another plan.

I was at a total loss as to what to do.  My mind spun.  I tried to approach the problem, but the vortex whipped me away.  Finally, after crying in the pool at the Y this morning, I suddenly thought of calling my mom and taking the cats out there.  Problem solved, but I was exhausted and frayed.  Mom asked me if I wanted to take home some tomatoes a neighbor had brought her, and I burst into tears.  Then, my neighbor in the apartment building called to say the inspection had been cancelled.  I sobbed so hard Henry came running to see what all the racket was about.

All of a sudden I have appointments and meetings written all over my calendar through the end of the year (a normal week will have one item, at most).  And even though I write them all down so I won’t forget, I keep forgetting.  I can’t hold them in my head.  And when a few do stick, they bump around in there like mad hornets.  These aren’t things I can blow off.  I had my annual physical, and there are specialists to be seen, lab work to be done, boobs to be squished.

Between episodes, I could manage all this just fine.  But right now it feels like non-stop attack.  I want to find a hidey-hole like my scaredy-cat, Emmett, and tuck myself into a ball so small no one can see me.

What this tells me is that I need to eliminate everything but the essential right now, keep social contact to no more than two people at a time (that seems to be my limit), put off making any serious decisions (like buying a new swim suit), and do what I can to soothe the exposed nerve endings.  I can’t avoid situations like today, but I can choose not to go to a party and a church supper this weekend like I’d planned.

It makes me sad to give up those social opportunities since I don’t get many of them.  But, it’s just bad timing.  Better to live in reality than suffer in denial.  At least that’s what Henry says.  When Emmett comes out of his hidey-hole, he’ll probably have a different opinion.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 27

I grew up with a Carnegie library—beautiful, but tiny.  While I lived in Minnesota, renovations made the old library handicap accessible.  Later, it sprouted a modern edition.  But, the old work horse just couldn’t keep pace with the coming 21st century and the demands of a town growing more and more multi-lingual.

The new public library opened a couple of years after I’d moved back to town.  It won awards for its green design.  Natural prairie grows on the boulevard instead of the standard lawn (much to the disgust of farmers who spent years spraying their fields to kill those native plants).  The stacks, the public computers, the children’s section, the meeting and study rooms all sit on one floor instead of the maze of half-floors and spiral staircases of the old library.  It’s light and airy with endless windows and lots of comfy furniture for study or relaxation with a good magazine.

I live a block away and go there all the time.  As a former bookstore manager and bibliophile, the new library helped me transition from book buyer to book borrower now that books are no longer in my budget.  And as someone with a reading disability, I appreciate the freedom to check books out that look good, but end up being too difficult.  I can just take them back and try others.  And if I hear about a book our library doesn’t have, I can request a loan from our sister libraries across the state.  Sometimes, the services seem too good to be true.

If you haven’t been to your local library in a while, go.  You’ll be surprised at what you’re missing.  And like every other government service, the libraries are in danger of disappearing.  Don’t let that happen.  Books open minds, and those minds are our future.

Finding the Gift

For the last few days I’ve been stuck in an uncomfortable place.  I haven’t posted much because I can’t find the “gift.”  If I sit with my discomfort, if I do the spiritual and mental work, there’s always insight—eventually.  I just haven’t gotten there yet.

Frankly, I’m frightened.  None of my ideas or plans for managing this illness seem to work for long.  I can follow through when I’m stable, but lately that state only lasts about a week before the depression or the mania return.  I believed going off medication would make a bigger difference than it has.  I’m clearer, my memory is better, and I no longer experience rapid cycling, but I had hoped for more.  I guess I was looking for a miracle.

I have to sit back for a minute, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the gifts I already have—a nice apartment, a vehicle that runs, my friends and family, clean clothes, two sweet cats, a place where I can swim and dance, food in the cupboard, a network of cyber-friends who understand me.  I can see the list going on and on.  If I hold onto these gifts, maybe I can wait out the fear and resignation, not get too mired in them.  This all will turn.  It always does.


The bubble on my bipolar level seems to be plumb once again.  But, I’m noticing that some symptoms leave watermarks or stringy residue behind.  My sleep pattern is still erratic.  All my joints, especially my neck, hips and hands, are stiff and sore (The barometric pressure has been low here for days, though, so the stormy weather may be mostly responsible).  I feel emotionally tentative, not quite trusting of the good humor and the ease with which I interacted with my family and friends this weekend.  It’s a feeling of looking a gift horse in the mouth—is this another slide into mania or can I stay here for a while?

Since I’ve decided to chart the states and qualities of my illness, I want to pay attention to these trailers.  I know that even in my best moments, there are aspects of the disorder that still manifest.  It’s so weird that I can’t remember what they are.  It seems that I have to experience them, be in that particular state, to remember, to be able to say, “Oh, yeah, this is normal for me.”  If this is true for other people with BP, no wonder we get so scared.  Each time one of these trailers pops up, it spooks us until we can recognize it and remember how we dealt with it.  Then, we have to figure out if that strategy worked or if we need a new plan.  We’re constantly starting over from square one.

I read on the Bipolar Blog yesterday some terrific tools for management.  One was very similar to what I’m trying to do with mapping, but they called it keeping a journal or diary.  I know some folks have regular rhythms to their episodes, or that specific events can trigger them.  How wonderful to have that information, to be able to plan ahead, prepare, and talk yourself into staying calm while the illness runs its course.  I’ve tried this, and while my episodes seem to have no rhyme or reason, I did notice how my “normal” mood changes throughout the day.  In my case, I get anxious in the evening.  I can deal with minimal anxiety by watching TV or working on art, but if it’s more pronounced, I go to my friends’ to watch TV with them.  I think of it as my own form of Sundown Syndrome.  This is a trailer I need to pay more attention to.

In the meantime, it’s time to get back into Bipolar Bad-Ass Training.  This really helped me pull focus after the last siege, and made going into the next one much less painful.  My training checklist includes  Clean Eating, Building Stamina, Setting Priorities, Eliminating Distraction, Laying in Supplies, Securing Downtime, Securing Back-up, and Plugging any Emotional Leaks.

Do folks out there have other elements of their lives they focus on during the “good days?”  Other parts of their lives that they clean-up, straighten out or strengthen?  Things they do to get ready for the next episode or to recover from the last one?  Please share with us.

Remembering in Layers

What I’m finding this time as I move through the extremes of my bipolar disorder is that there are so many layers.  I’ve noted this in my journals before, but I always forget.  Just like I forget how to navigate in the deepest levels of the depression, I forget what these other levels feel like.  I want to mark them again, if only to have a record for next time.

Yesterday I felt myself rise from a prickly, desperate state to something smoother.  The constriction within me loosened.  The day before I could only focus on 15 minutes at a time, scrambling to find an activity that would distract me for that long.  But, in this new level, I could focus on the activity itself.  I spent 90 minutes in the water, just moving moderately with the aerobics class, knowing any kind of movement was positive.  It was a relief to have that block of time taken care of.  I didn’t have to make any decisions about how to distract myself next.  I could focus on moving my body.

When I got home, I noticed I could sit with my magazines and cut out words and pictures for my collages without agitation.  It felt like I had risen into a more fluid layer of depression.  Anguish and sorrow drifted through me like light, scuttling clouds that haze the sky, then move on.  I could feel the gaps between those brushes of pain, and I could let them pass through without being overwhelmed by them.

This is the layer of depression where I’m able to use my tools.  I forget that at the deeper levels, the depression paralyzes me, fills me with such despair that all I can do is thrash around in panic.  I chide myself for not managing this level better, for not being more diligent in using my tools, but the fact is I don’t have many tools for the lower levels.  Most of them are the ways I learned to run from the pain when I was very young—overeating, sleeping, watching TV.  They are deeply ingrained, unhealthy, more instinct now than choice.  I have learned to see the depression, to recognize the twisted thoughts as illness and not me, which is no small feat.  But, there’s more work to be done at these denser levels.

I forget that most of the tools in my toolbox need that looser, smoother layer to take effect.  Exercise isn’t useful if I can’t get myself to the Y.  Calling a friend or my therapist doesn’t help if I can’t pick up the phone.  I can push myself here.  I still struggle to make healthy choices, and the depression drags at me like dead weight, but I’ve built up enough mental muscle and endurance to slog through the morass.

I’ll see my therapist in a couple of weeks.  I want to talk to her about this.  Is there any way to bring consciousness to the worst of the depression?  Can I develop different tools to use there?  Will I remember?

Training Checklist: Lay in Supplies

I’m back.  The dust-up I wrote about yesterday turned out to be just that—a temporary bipolar blip taken care of by an afternoon in bed and a handy automatic weapon.  Bipolar Bad-Ass Training recommences.

Every warrior checks her supplies between engagements.  The next battle may rage long-term, so she lays in rations, weapons, ammo and any other tools needed.  She anticipates her needs.  Likewise, there are a few things I need to take care of before the next episode comes.

I’ve needed to get my eyes checked and new glasses for a long time now.  I also need a haircut.  And then, there’s my disintegrating underwear.  When I’m depressed, when I’m manic, I can’t do these little chores.  Just thinking about them makes me cry.  Then, during my usual respites between episodes, I find a million other ways to fritter away my money.  But, I’m in training now.  My parents offered to pay for my glasses, so I need to take care of that.  Period.  And when the shooting starts, I can’t have my bangs falling into my eyes ( not to mention where my underwear ends up).

Once I get these chores taken care of, I need to sock away a little money each week I’m in training to off-set future compulsive spending.  This is something I’ve never done, but it feels right.  It feels like something Linda Hamilton would do.

Then, there are the spiritual supplies to secure.  The only way I know to do that is to meditate.  Daily meditation builds spiritual muscle.  It builds a space where my mind can rest and remember its true nature.  Meditation provides me with the tools to watch my thoughts, to surrender to the Now, and to break the hold illusion has on me.  I have difficulty meditating alone.  I procrastinate.  I get itchy.  But, I can’t attend my meditation group regularly, so in order to develop the mental depth and flexibility needed for the coming storm, I must meditate on my own.  I’m in training now.  No excuses.

I feel like I’m missing something.  Hmm.  What I’ll do is keep a new list:  Things I Need for the Next Engagement.  If something else comes to me, I won’t lose it while performing all my other training exercises.  Unlike other Bad-Asses, we bipolars have the memory problem to contend with.  It just wouldn’t do to forget the rocket launcher.

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.


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.

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.

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