Talking to Myself

handmade greeting card, collage artCycling again, and trying to experience it differently (My endless mantra—”Let’s try this…”).  Working with the practices in Radical Acceptance, I breathe and notice how the despair and sorrow feel in my body.  I try to give all that pain room and accept that this is my experience for now.

I’ve done this work before, realized that I feel nothing in the belly when depression is deep, constriction in my chest, constant pressure of tears trying to escape.  The new piece is acceptance and compassion for the whole of my experience—being kind to it all.

It’s too hard to do alone, so I’ll ask my new therapist to help me when I see her on Monday.  I want to run from the pain, numb it however I can, find diversion to keep from noticing it.  And that’s standard psychological practice—when symptoms are too overwhelming, find healthy diversion.  So, I wonder if I’m going too deep, trying to offer space when I should be sitting at the movies being distracted.  I’ve done both this week.

One thing Tara talks about in her book, is compassionate self-talk—telling yourself that you care about the suffering that’s happening.  When I read that passage yesterday, I realized that’s something I’ve done all my life through my stories.

I’ve always been a little embarrassed by my fan fiction.  It’s not considered “real” prose by literary types, just obsessive verbal stalking by lonely fan-girls.  To counteract my shame, I try to write well and develop a solid plot.  I do research and all the other things “real” writers do.  But they still feel like dirty secrets.  I’ve often wondered if my fantasies are pathological, even though every therapist I’ve ever seen says they’re good for me.  I go there, the place in me that holds and generates my stories, when my symptoms swamp me.  I feel ill and desperate when I go to that Haven, so I question whether it’s healthy.

But the stories that spin out are always loving, kind, supportive and validating.  The characters who show up tell me the things I can’t tell myself.  They are the friends who always  have time for me, the lovers who “see all my light, and love my dark.”  They take care of me, which reminds me of what I need to do to take care of myself.

Take the story that followed me around all day yesterday:

Tom HiddlestonI was at a party at Tom Hiddleston’s house with my boyfriend, Benedict Cumberbatch.  Tom hosted the party because Chris Hemsworth and his family were back in town (London) as were Anthony Hopkins and his wife (he lives in the US now).  David Tennant and his wife, and Simon Pegg and his wife, were also there.

These are all characters than have inhabited my Haven before.  It’s an ongoing stream, like real life, where people come and go.  Acquaintances become friends, friends become lovers.  We meet, part, meet again in different circumstances.  What we share and learn about each other carries over to the next scenario.  Sometimes these streams become solid enough to write.  Mostly they just live in my Haven and wait for the next development.

David Tennent, Simon PeggAt this particular party, Tom asked if I would sing for them (I sing a lot in these stories—always beautifully and with stunning effect).  I didn’t want to.  In the story I was sliding into depression and didn’t know some of the people there.  But I agreed anyway.  After singing the Alanis Morissette song “Everything” (which happened to be playing on my iPod), David and Simon wanted to set me up with a music producer they knew.  Their insistence was too much, their enthusiasm pushed me too hard.  I escaped out the front door to the street.  I was overwhelmed, embarrassed, worried that I’d ruined the party, worried that I’d wear out these new friends like I’d worn out everyone else in my life, worried that Benedict would leave me now, and basically felt wretched.

Anthony HopkinsSir Anthony came after me.  I’d never met him before that night, but enjoyed his company at dinner.  He brought a jacket—I’d run out without one—and asked if he could walk with me.  He asked what happened, and I told him.  He asked gentle questions that gave me space.  He talked about his own struggle with alcoholism and depression.  He understood.  He reminded me that my friends’ enthusiasm was just their way of loving me.  We talked about acting, and music, and living fully with mental illness.  He’d seen work I’d done (of course, I act in these stories, too), and said he had a script at home that he wanted to send me. He thought we’d be brilliant in this piece together.

Benedict CumberbatchWhen we went back into the house, Benedict was waiting.  Not worried, just present, ready to provide whatever I needed—comfort, acceptance, steadfastness.  Tom was worried that he’d caused me distress (because I think that’s what Tom Hiddleston would really do).  The rest of the party didn’t pay much attention to Tony and me going out—they had moved on to other conversation and high-energy story-telling.  And I was fine in my vulnerability, cocooned in love.

This story played out all day yesterday.  I was in a lot of distress, and when journaling and movies quit distracting me, the Story would come back and a new piece of comfort and space opened up.

I think I’m done being embarrassed by my stories.  I think I finally understand how important they are to my mental health.  When I need love and acceptance the most, I give it to myself through them.  And, really, I think that’s pretty cool.

A New Myth

Collage art, handmade greeting cards, vintage

A couple of weeks ago in meditation, we read from one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s books, The Voice of Knowledge.  Here’s the passage:

  • There is a conflict in the human mind between the truth and what is not the truth, between the truth and lies.  The result of believing in the truth is goodness, love, happiness.  The result of believing and defending lies is injustice and suffering—not only in society, but also in the individual.
  • All of the drama humans suffer is the result of believing in lies, mainly about ourselves.  The first lie we believe is I am not:  I am not the way I should be, I am not perfect.  The truth is that every human is born perfect because only perfection exists.
  • We humans have no idea what we really are, but we know what we are not.  We create an image of perfection, a story about what we should be, and we begin to search for a false image.  The image is a lie, but we invest our faith in that lie.  Then we build a whole structure of lies to support it.
  • Faith is a powerful force in humans.  If we invest our faith in a lie, that lie becomes truth for us.  If we believe we are not good enough, then thy will be done, we are not good enough.  If we believe we will fail, we will fail, because that is the power and magic of faith.
  • Humans can perceive truth with our feelings, but when we try to describe the truth, we can only tell a story that we distort with our word.  The story may be true for us, but that doesn’t mean it is true for anyone else.
  • All humans are storytellers with their own unique point of view.  When we understand this, we no longer feel the need to impose our story on others or to defend what we believe.  Instead, we see all of us as artists with the right to create our own art.

The task in meditation that day was to hold the question of what stories we believed about ourselves and to relax our grip on them.  The exercise was meaningful for all of us, but I came away with a new piece of Work to practice.

I saw that I define myself by my illness.  And I wondered what might happen if I stopped telling myself that story.  What would happen if, instead of identifying myself as bipolar, I said, “I’m Fine?”  Not “fine” as a term to flip off when people ask me how I am, or as a way to barricade myself against prying, but saying “I’m fine” as a mantra of truth?

Loki, Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers

Loki, God of Mischief

Under all the symptoms of the illness, under the worry about money and the angst of relationships, there’s a core part of me that is perfect.  The core is whole, sound and centered.  It is where I experience love and compassion, where I find courage, where joy sparks.  The bipolar disorder is weather storming around the core; a hot, gritty wind that obscures the view and causes mischief.

When I believe that I am fundamentally fine, the illness loses power and substance.  I can see it as the mischief-maker it is.  Like the Norse god, Loki, it causes chaos—serious chaos—but it is not the whole story.  Loki is a lesser god in the Norse pantheon, and bipolar disorder can be a lesser player in the entirety of my life.

At least that’s the story I’m telling myself these days.  I’ll see how the myth plays out.

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