The Work Starts Today

This is my work today: To start finding ways to love living in Oklahoma instead of hating it.  I know there’s a way to do it.  Or ways.  I might need help, so if anyone has ideas—trite, condescending, stupid-sounding—I want to hear them.  They will make me mad.  I won’t want to listen.  I will clutch my perceived Truths until my fingers bleed.  And I need to let go if I’m going to survive.

I don’t just want to survive.  I want to thrive.  How do I do that when I’m filled with loathing?  Well, I can’t.  I need to find the drain plug on all the disappointment, judgment, rage and hopelessness.  Fast.  I need a brand new perspective, one that hasn’t occurred to me yet.  One the Bipolar Badass never imagined.

This is what I will do today:

•Make a list of what I hate most and decide if those things are manageable or not.  If they are, I can brainstorm another list on how to change them.  If they aren’t, I must find a way to manage me.

•At the same time, focus on what I love and am grateful for.  A new art journal spread is calling.

•Start re-reading Radical Acceptance as this book opened me to accepting myself.  I know there are other treasures there.

•Manage my illness.  There are things other than art that make my bipolarness easier.  I need to identify them and gently reincorporate them until they become routine again.

This is a lot.  Maybe too much to begin with.  But, today I will start.

I’ve always said that Life is an Adventure.  I want to come back to that perspective, and to find the next outgrowth of that perspective.  What is the next thing?  I will search and listen, be active and be quiet, breathe and wait.  I’ll find it.

I know I will.

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Feeling the Squeeze

Martian Popping ThingNot that this is news to anyone, but dealing with bipolar disorder isn’t for pansy-asses.  It takes a kind of courage I’m only beginning to comprehend.

The depression has been big these last two weeks, my internal world inhospitable and frightening.  Lies and faulty thinking I thought I’d corrected long ago are back.  Mindfulness is out of reach.  I do what I can—move through the water every morning, go someplace that smells like coffee, write in my journal, call a friend.  But I can only poke holes in the darkness.  And as my therapist and I start using the tools in Radical Acceptance, I’m catching glimpses of—something—on the periphery.

There’s a terror within me that I’ve never touched.  I’m being asked to do that now.  Intellectually, I see this as therapeutic and full of potential.  But in our first session doing this Work, so much resistance came up that my body went numb.  Everything in me wanted to run out of Megan’s office.  When she talked to me, it was as if she spoke a foreign language.  I could not comprehend what she said.

I’ve tried working with difficult aspects of my illness before—the compulsive eating and spending, the anxiety, the insatiable longing.  I’ve noticed that when I start challenging one of these pieces or bring awareness to it, the others thrash around like two-year-olds.  To me it feels like a kind of pressure valve.  When I pay attention to my feelings of loneliness and wanting, I eat everything in sight.  When I put structure to my eating, my credit card starts smoking from all the on-line shopping.  I feel like one of those rubber Martian Popper dolls.

But I’ve not really had a partner in doing this work.  My previous therapists were either traditional, ineffective, or so flaky that they never should have been practicing in the first place (I’ve had some whack-os.  That’s another story).  But now I have someone who feels safe and competent, someone who shares my view of mental illness as a spiritual path, someone who knows more than I do about this Work.  I don’t have to figure this out alone any more.

And while I’m scared, I’m also relieved.  I’m trying not to have expectations, just face whatever comes the best I can.

But I think I’ll have to find one of those Popper dolls to take with me to my next session.

Our Bodies—A Foreign Language

handmade greeting cards, collage artTara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, has offered me a treasure trove of learning and tools.  There’s so much, and the lessons run so deep, that I’m digesting it slowly.

Today I started the chapter on Desire and Wanting—what I’ve considered my biggest nemesis and Fatal Flaw.  Wanting turns me into someone else—ravenous, obsessive, and ultimately unworthy.  I’ve tried sitting quietly with it, holding it with curious compassion, but usually end up drowning it in whatever will make it shut up.  Of course, nothing does that for long.

Tara tells about a time when she was at the beginning of a new relationship.  She went off to a meditation retreat, looking forward to peace and rejuvenation, but all she could do was fantasize about her new boyfriend.  Here’s what she says about it:

After several days, I had a pivotal interview with my teacher.  When I described how I’d become so overwhelmed, she asked, “How are you relating to the presence of desire?”  I was startled into understanding.   For me, desire had become the enemy, and I was losing the battle.  Her questions pointed me back to the essence of mindfulness practice:  It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we are relating to our experience.  She advised me to stop fighting my experience and instead investigate the nature of wanting mind.  I could accept whatever was going on, she reminded me, but without getting lost in it.

While often uncomfortable, desire is not bad—it is natural.  The pull of desire is part of our survival equipment.  It keeps us eating, having sex, going to work, doing what we do to thrive.  Desire also motivates us to read books, listen to talks and explore spiritual practices that help us realize and inhabit loving awareness.  The same life energy that leads to suffering also provides the fuel for profound awakening.  Desire becomes a problem only when it takes over our sense of who we are.

We are mindful of desire when we experience it with an embodied awareness, recognizing the sensations and thoughts of wanting as arising and passing phenomena.  While this is not easy, as we cultivate the clear seeing and compassion of Radical Acceptance, we discover we can open fully to this natural force and remain free in its midst.

Feeling my emotions in my body is something I’ve been practicing for only a short time.  I’m more used to sitting in meditation and simply noting my physical state, not pausing in the midst of emotional pain to find it in my body.  Frankly, it’s frightening.  But the more I do it, the more I can accept whatever my body feels.  It’s hard not to jump ahead and wonder if this might be another piece in the puzzle of how to deal with my compulsive symptoms (There’s Wanting, again).  So, I just note that—feel the jittery, acid-burn of Wanting in my belly; the buzzy energy lighting up my arms and back—and breathe into the experience.

This is new, and exciting, and scary.  I want more.  But not today.  Today I’ll just stick to paying attention to what this experience feels like in my body.  That’s enough foreign language to digest for one day.

Radical Acceptance

handmade greeting cards, collage artI knew I’d come to the right place when my new therapist went to her stuffed bookshelf and pulled down When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.

“That’s one of my favorite books,” I told her, craning my neck to see what other jewels she had.

Unphased, she rifled through a few more.  “Then, you’ll like this one, I think,” she said.

I stuffed it in my bag and forgot about it in the wake of bronchitis and $500 spend on medicines that didn’t help much.  Yesterday, I decided I was done being sick—not physically, I’m a long way from well, but mentally.  I threw my book bag over my shoulder, took a slow stroll over the railroad yard to the Starbucks at HyVee, and settled into a cafe booth to journal.  And I found the book Megan loaned me.  Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

By the end of Chapter 2, I had to close my eyes and sit quietly while all the doors inside opened.

I could see how my fear of repeating last year (bronchitis—depression—hospitalization) pushed me into going to the doctor and obscured what I knew to be true.  Medicine has never helped me recover from my chronic respiratory infections and only drains my resources.  But Fear drowned out that quiet voice, the one that understands it just takes time, patience and healthy practices to get well.

radicalRadical Acceptance talks about waking up from the trance of unworthiness and accepting all our immediate experience offers.  From that perspective, I could see how I might work with my fear differently next time.  There’s nothing new in this approach—it’s as old as Buddhism—but coming face-to-face with the perfect example always slams home the Teaching.

To simply see that fear is in play is the first and hardest hurdle.  It acts as an underground driver, pushing, directing, demanding action.  So to be able to wake up in that agitation and See what stirs it takes practice.  Then, the task is to observe the fear, hold it gently, watch the stories it generates, feel the push and pull, and listen carefully to the quiet voice on the other side of it.  That quiet voice is my own Wisdom, something I don’t trust anymore, something that got lost in the sea of delusion my bipolar disorder created.  But, in accepting my fear I begin to Remember.  I remember that I do have a wiser self that isn’t delusional or lying.  I’ve ignored it a long time.  I’m out of practice finding it.

I sat in my booth and listened.  This wise part of me is so quiet, so gentle.  It offers suggestions that are kind and sensible, not the wild plans of my delusions.

I smiled, grateful for the doors opening, grateful for a new way to Practice, grateful for finding my new therapist and her glorious bookshelf.

I have enough.

I am enough.

All will be well.

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