Old Song

Uplifting Songs

The bronchitis has run its course, but the wake of bipolar ping-ponging still bounces me.  And I’m desperate to find some equilibrium.  Looking at my journal entries from last year around this time, I was a little shocked to see that I’m repeating myself.

From last year:

Kind of back to normal.  I’m still not sleeping well.  Just want to curl up in my chair and watch back-to-back movies.  Feels like I’m starting over after being sick.  So maybe I should look at what I want my life to be now.  What do I want to focus on?  Work toward?

I could have written that yesterday.  It makes my ass tired to think I’m back at this place.  Every time I get sick, every time I go through a long episode of mood swings, I have to pull up my socks and refocus.  I’m always battling my weight and compulsive eating, my inertia, my disappointment in absent friends.  BlahBlahBlah.  I’m sick to death of this same old song.

My TOPS membership will be due in December, and I decided not to renew.  I’m also resigning as the Weight Recorder.  Now I know that making decisions under the influence of bipolarness is unwise.  I also recognize this throwing in the weight loss towel as part of a different cycle.  I give up, say I’m going to accept myself the way I am, gain weight, panic, and go back to trying to control my eating.  So I fully acknowledge that these decisions are sick-brain-driven and, most likely, temporary.

But, I would like to accept myself the way I am.  I would like to, once and for all, let go of the fantasy that I can lose 150 pounds and be at all desirable to the opposite sex.  I’m not hideous.  I’m just an obese, middle-aged woman on the way to crone-hood.  I want to accept that and find some happiness in THAT, not wait for a body or a partner that are never coming.  I mean, I went to freaking England by my fat self and had a fabulous time.  I don’t want to wait anymore.  For anything.  Or anybody.

And I guess I’m grieving that old fantasy, both embracing the full truth of who I am and pushing it away.  But the more I can wrap my arms around myself, the braver I’ll be about going after what I want.  Like deciding to spend two weeks in Tucson this winter.  I’m renting a little house on the desert because I loved Tucson twenty years ago when we vacationed there and have always wanted to go back.  Because my allergist said I would do better in a warm, dry climate.  Because my shrink said to get out of the dark this winter.

So, I’ve been taking my cats on practice runs to get them used to being in the car for long stretches.  Because I want them with me in the desert.  And we’re figuring it out.  Like I’m figuring me out.  And we all may get car sick on the way.  And we all may cry, and mew, and protest.  But at least that’s a new song.

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Goals for the Next 30 Days: Lose 8 Pounds

Did You Wash Your SocksI knew when I wrote that goal down that it was pretty unrealistic, but I’m more interested in the process than the final result.  To that end, I’m taking a lot of positive, healthy, nurturing steps in the right direction.

Before I went into partial hospitalization, I volunteered to be the Weight Recorder for my TOPS chapter.  There’s not a lot of structure to TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), but we do have to weigh in every week.  At the time, I thought being the Weight Recorder might keep me involved with the group and make me more accountable. That was the time I discovered the top whey protein powder, but I’ll tell about this in some other post.  So, what I didn’t foresee was how much fun it would be.  I love the woman who is the Assistant Weight Recorder—she has an infectious laugh and a practical, no-nonsense nature.  We’re easy together and create a supportive atmosphere for what can sometimes be a painful part of the meeting.  We focus on the positive, ask questions that might help our members make small adjustments to their plans, and do lots of cheering and hugging.  Positive juju begets more of the same.  It also keeps weight loss in the front of my brain.

lose itI also started using the Lose It site.  Keeping a food journal helps me lose weight, and doing it online is fast and easy.  I can also keep track of my exercise there.  Lose It lets me calculate the amount of weight I want to lose each week and provides a daily calorie budget.  I can set goals and join all kinds of challenges.  I’m doing four of those right now—Log in all 30 days in June, Lose 3 pounds in June, Log in how many minutes I meditate over the summer, and Stay at or under my calorie budget for the summer.  I find the challenges to be fun and motivating, but even more so with all the “Friends” there.  It’s a real social activity—people sharing their successes and struggles, passing along tips and what works for them.  And, again, there’s lots of cheerleading and support.  Another very happy place.

diana-nyad-670The challenges on Lose It have also helped me step up my exercise.  I’m at the Y seven days a week now—six in the pool and Sundays on the recumbent bike and track. This week I’m trying to add in an afternoon walk as well, though dry land isn’t as kind to my feet and back.  I figure I need to get ready for all the walking I’ll do in England!

Of course, the biggest obstacle to losing weight is my compulsive eating.  Last week I could feel the anxiety building and knew I would binge, so I tried to stay as aware as I could.  Was there a way I could minimize the damage?  Allow the release that eating brings without blowing up my calorie budget?  I hit on a great compromise—a sackful of raw veggies and a bottle of lite Ranch dressing.  I ate a big bowl of colorful, delicious, healthy food and was satisfied.  That, my friends, rarely happens.

With all of these wonderful tools and methods of support, I’m making better choices and moving in a healthier direction.   I feel stronger and, even more important, more in control.  The counselors at the hospital had a saying—Don’t be a victim of your brain.  Make it work for you.  I try to hold those words as I work on all my discharge goals, but even more so with my weight loss efforts.  I doubt I’ll make my original goal of losing 8 pounds this month.  But I will make my Lose It goal of 3 pounds.  That feels like success—for me and my brain.

Every Moment

At our Thursday TOPS meetings we draw a Pledge for the coming week.  It’s usually something healthy and weight-related we’re called to do every day—a reminder to keep proper nutrition and management at the front of our minds.  The penalty for not fulfilling the Pledge is a dime.  Not a huge deterrent, just a nudge.

This current bout of depression started its dive two weeks ago.  On my way down I jettisoned any semblance of control as the darkness took over my eating.  I bought what was cheap and could numb the pain.  I included fruit and vegetables, but that was like throwing a life-preserver to someone bitten in half by a shark.

The illness and the distorted thinking twisted me in knots of self-loathing.  I felt hideous inside and out.  It was intolerable.

So, when I weighed in today I knew what the scale would say.  I tried to remember that it was just a number, not an indictment.

In the meeting we talked about our goals and vision, why we continued to attend the meetings, and what we wanted.  I felt defeated and helpless against the constant cycle of compulsive eating, shame, and celery.  I hated myself.

Then, one of the women drew out our Pledge for the coming week.  “Every day, tell yourself you are worth the struggle.”

There were so many ways my twisted brain wanted to argue with that statement.  But I just took a deep breath, came home, ate too much, then sat down at my work table.

The only positive voice in my head—when there is one—is baritone and British.  I thought I might just listen to that affirmation if I could imagine it in the Voice.  So I made a piece to stick on my bathroom mirror where I would be sure to see it every day.  Many times every day.

Every Moment, Benedict Cumberbatch

When I read these words, I know they’re not just about obesity and compulsion.  They’re about poverty, madness, and loneliness.  They’re about getting up after falling on the ice for the umpteenth time.  They’re about laughing when it would be much easier to cry.  They’re about taking a deep breath and looking up at the stars instead of keeping my head down in the cold.  They’re about Remembering who I am.

And if I need to hear these words in a British accent to believe them, then so be it.  We do whatever works.

Good Things Happen

abandoned hotel

On Monday, I head back to Council Bluffs for my week of Advanced Peer Training.  Since I’m finally well enough to get through the day without a nap, that works out just fine.

To keep from checking into another Walking Dead Hotel, I turned to William Shatner and Priceline to find a nice place that wouldn’t cost me a lung.  I’ve got a Comfort Inns and Suites room waiting for me—a $112/day room for the low, low price of $49/day!  I feel like a total Shat-boss, ready to kick old ladies and children out of my way at the complimentary breakfast line.Priceline, William Shatner

My friend, Bea, will act as cat concierge again, making house calls on the boys while I’m away.  I’ll leave them with plenty of food and water, but a week without human fawning would be intolerable.  Bea will offer the proper level of deference and admiration.Henry, cat in a box

I plan to stop at Whole Foods on my way West to load my cooler with kale and collard greens.  Being sick has made me sloppy, doing what’s easy instead of what’s best.  Getting out of town and doing something besides watching old movies and sleeping will help me point my energies in a healthier direction.  I can expend a little more effort in eating my greens, in using the stationary bike at the hotel’s Fitness Center (another win for the Shat!), and in taking walks after class around the funky downtown area.  I’ll be a good girl and keep my food journal, not just to keep from paying the fine at TOPS next week (50 cents!), but because I need the information.  My ponies haven’t galloped too far down range, but there are several I haven’t ridden in a while.  Time to hop on all those horses and ride.

peer supportAnd when I get home, I’ll have something special waiting for me.  Yesterday, I talked with Dan, the social worker who pointed me toward Peer Training when I was in partial hospitalization last spring.  The hospital program I went through offers an after-care support group, but it’s designed to be short-term.  Folks are only allowed to attend for three months.  Part of recovery is finding other means of emotional support through family, friends and other groups.  Many people have asked for an after-after-care group, one that would let them continue with the friends they’ve made in group.  Dan said the hospital finally approved a peer-led after-care group, and he wants me to be part of the peer team.  The week after I get home from training, I’ll meet with Dan to start orientation and training.

The position is unpaid, which bummed me at first glance.  But I quickly realized it’s the perfect way for me to ease into this work and a possible work-life.  I’ll be with people I know, working in a program I believe in at Mercy Franklin (the only place I ever saw myself working).  It’s a baby step, and that’s the only way to proceed here.

It’s so easy to focus on the crappy stuff—being sick, being crazy.  Good Things happen, too.  Especially when I point my energy and thoughts in that direction.  I am infinitely grateful for that reminder today.

A Bad-Ass Opportunity

the-world_s-top-10-best-images-of-animals-with-a-mouthful-51Another week of violent rapid cycling, but as Napoleon Hill said, ” In every crisis lies the seed of opportunity.”  A couple of those seeds sprouted this week.

First, was a presentation at my UU Fellowship by a local teacher on diet and support of locally grown produce.  Part of her talk included this amazing TED Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls.  As a doctor and medical researcher, she found that healthy cellular mitochondria determines brain function to a large extent.  If you don’t have time to watch this 18 minute video, come back to it later.  You won’t be sorry.

I’ve read about supporting my brain with diet from a number of sources (Dr. Daniel Amen for one) but I’ve been half-assed in incorporating what I’ve learned.  The half that eats well and buys organic is sabotaged by the compulsive-eating half uncaged by my illness.  But Dr. Wahls offered some definitive data.  If I want a healthy brain, I need to eat for a healthy brain.  Being a Mostly-Vegan wasn’t going to cut it.

The second seed of opportunity came in an email from our TOPS group.  The club is in a slump, gaining more than loosing for several weeks in a row.  Leanna, our group cheerleader, said we needed to have more fun, get excited, find our motivation and get back to supporting each other on our weight loss journeys.

Eowyn, Lord of the RingsThere are always moments in the upheavals and dives of my life when I recover my Bipolar Bad-Ass—a ferocity and strength that drives me to do what needs to be done.  This warrior stance isn’t one I can maintain.  It’s the positive end of a mixed episode where superhuman courage and creativity mix with a low level of anger.  The Bad-Ass demands change.  She draws her sword and dares anyone to stop her.

I’ve started projects and made changes in this state that fall by the wayside once my moods shifts again.  But the changes I have made in my life—exercising every day, turning off the TV, meditation—also came from The Bad-Ass.  She’s still my best chance of doing things differently.  So when she came back this week, after these two seeds of opportunity presented themselves, I told her to suit up.  That’s it, I told her.  We’re done fucking around.

I went to Whole Foods and bought greens—kale, collard greens, beets with their foliage, spinach, arugula.  I got kelp and balsamic vinegar.  I loaded up on bell peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.  Every night I make myself a fabulous salad with all this stuff, add a few sunflower seeds or walnuts, maybe chop up a couple of Mejool dates or toss in some berries.  I dug out my Moosewood Cookbook and found this wonderful entry on assembling a salad.

Use a large enough bowl, so you’ll have plenty of room to toss the salad thoroughly.  Make it your special salad bowl—it will acquire more depth and soul with each use, and this will enhance something nameless (I don’t know what) about this experience.

I pulled down one of the few survivors of my many manic purges—an artisan pottery bowl I bought years ago at an art fair.  It’s beautiful, and now it’s my salad bowl.  Today I filled it with slaw that I made up without a recipe—purple cabbage, raw shredded beets, collard greens, onion, carrots, minced garlic with a dressing of vegan mayo, honey, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.  It’s sitting in my fridge steeping, letting all those flavors percolate.  But, already it’s delicious.  Tomorrow I’ll share it at Fellowship.

It’s up to me to take care of my brain. There’s a twisted irony behind the idea that a particular diet could help me do that.  And another twist in that a Healthy Brain diet might be the best way to drop weight.  But, that’s okay.  Most Bad-Asses spout irony and sass without even blinking.

Yipee-Kai-Aye.  I’ll be back.

But, those catch phrases don’t quite work.  I can imagine my Bad-Ass, sword in one hand, a fist full of kale in the other.  Her lip curls as she whispers, I dare ya.  Eat your medicine.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

????????????????????It’s always a shock when reality stubs your toe—especially when you thought the path was clear.  Oops, where was I when the sidewalk heaved?

I was managing this Week of Ultimate Change like a boss.  Before the Y closed for its annual week of maintenance, I called around to find another pool.  But with the rise in parasitic infections in public pools and school starting soon, all the pools I called were closed or closing.  So, instead, I parked my truck and walked everywhere.  I thought putting new inserts in my old sneakers would be a good idea, but ended up getting blisters.  Oh, well.  That’s what Band-aids are for.  The weather was mild this week, and I loved tramping all over town with my iPod.

True to my word, I followed up on the referral my group counselor gave me for Peer Support information.  What I got back were more referrals, so I fired off more queries.  I have a feeling I’m knocking on doors still under construction, but I’ll keep at it.  At the same time, I made sure my mental health records transferred to my new clinic and got an intake appointment scheduled for September.  All the ducks started lining up.

I checked on my mom, coordinated schedules with my sister to share duties, paid attention so as to not over-extend myself.

At TOPS, I neither gained nor lost, which seemed miraculous with all the change swirling around me.  But, I chalked it up to lucky brain chemistry and tried not to eat to celebrate.

And writing came easy this week—bits and pieces of my current story in Shitty First-Draft form (that is a technical term).  I can feel the words pulling me now, which is the pay-off for putting butt to chair and pen to paper every day.  I spent several hours everyday on my memoir as well, sorting through 800 pages of rough copy.

I knew I was enjoying one of my respite phases, a break in the bipolar Push Me-Pull You, but I started to take credit for it.  All this work I was doing, being all responsible and productive, must be good for me.  I know better than to take ownership of my brain’s haphazard chemical stew, but ego is a determined little bugger.  And its voice is so lovely.  Look how easy this is, it said.  Look how you’ve cleared the path…

So, of course,  there came a day when I tripped.  I completely forgot about my meditation group.  Only after my friends called to make sure I was all right did I really stop and Look.  I felt the agitation, the ramping up of ‘productivity” into spinning, the push to quiet it with food, the antsy itch to bolt.

Sly, sly Mania!  It knows I’ll ignore it as long as I can, because it feels so good.  But it gives itself away eventually, whether by grandiosity or giddiness or obsession.  The energy of it won’t let things stay tidy and organized.  Cracks break open in the sidewalk.  As Yeats said, “the centre will not hold.”

Being manic doesn’t discount the work I’ve done this week.  It’s just a reminder to not get cocky and to watch where I’m going.

Returning

handmade greeting cards, collage artIf there’s an up side to rapid cycling, it’s that nothing last for long.  I get a few days now to reengage and refocus.

What I learned in the hospital this time around, is that being a social animal is required.  Solitude may feel safer, but it’s really just another compulsion that I must push against.  So, when these easier days come, I can look at how to do that.

I’m big on making plans.  My journals are full of lists, Things To Do, strategies, and abandoned schemes.  Over time, they’ve become less grandiose, more tempered, a little more grounded in my reality.  But still they trail behind me like toilet paper on my shoe—a reminder to wake up a little more before taking that first step.

What matters, I think, is making the effort.  Nothing changes unless we can envision it and then move in that direction.  It takes muscle.  This week I’m doing what a social animal does—making calls, meeting friends, dropping by on my way to somewhere else.  I’m choosing to engage.

And as I build up a little momentum, other actions become easier—working on my new collage at night instead of eating my way through a DVD, cleaning my apartment, going back to the Y late in the day for a second workout.  And after holding the question for a few days now, I’ve decided to go back to TOPS.  It’s a social group, which is what I’m to be working on, and if it helps me lose weight, so much the better.

I wrestled long and hard on my compulsive eating last year, then gave up when my bipolar symptoms went into overdrive.  It feels good to come back to this, to reengage this particular tension, to put my strong shoulder against the thing and push.  I hope to do it a little differently, with less black and white thinking, with more gentleness, but with definite action.  It will take more mindfulness than I’ve practiced lately.  It will take willingness to keep returning whenever the compulsion takes over.  Just like I’m doing now.  Returning.  As gentle as that.

These in-between days are always full of revelations, inspiration and fresh starts.  Most of them fall by the bipolar wayside, but a few survive for a while.  It all depends on me, where I put my intent and what actions I take.  Talk is cheap.  Ideas are easy.  The proof is in the doing.

Before and After

Sweet Relief.

I hit bottom yesterday, actually felt the jolt as my body slapped the Pit and bounced.  That little bit of momentum, the ricochet off Hell’s linoleum floor, felt like a heavenly watershed.

Before: I shambled, zombie-like, unable to rub two thoughts together without pain, unable to follow a conversation, unable to even hold my head up from the table at my TOPS meeting (The last time I remember laying my head on a table was in Miss Camp’s fourth grade class when we were required to “rest” after lunch).  I drowsy-drove to Mom’s with my laundry, but couldn’t figure out how to use the washer.  I rested in the basement until my brain could decipher the word “detergent.”  Then I slept on Mom’s bed until my sister came out and spoke in a foreign language I almost understood.

After: I actually opened a can of Manwich and microwaved it as spaghetti sauce.  I operated my mom’s DVD player and plugged in “Australia.”  I answered her in complete sentences when she asked me questions.  And as I drove home with my clean and folded clothes, I was awake.  Maybe not alert yet, but definitely headed in that direction.

After a weird night of what I call Transition Sleep, I feel almost myself.  The momentum is continuing.  I missed my normal Y class by oversleeping, but I’ll hit another one in a minute here.  I’ve got a plan and a direction for today, which is more than I’ve had in weeks (including the frantic scramble to set up my Etsy site and donation button).  Things are looking up, which is the only view from the bottom.

Anger and Compulsive Eating

Part of the pledge we say every week in TOPS is “I am an intelligent person.  I will control my emotions and not let my emotions control me.”  Emotional eating, compulsive eating, is an enormous problem for most people in our group.  It is an issue we all struggle with and support one another to address.  But, as someone with bipolar disorder, I knew I would be lying if I said the pledge as written.  My moods are uncontrollable.  Emotions often erupt out of thin air.  I edited my version of the pledge to say “I will observe my emotions and not let my thoughts control me.”  I felt this put the TOPS pledge in alignment with my practice.  If I could observe my thoughts and emotions, I could discern which pieces might be out of my control and which ones I might be able to work with.

I received an opportunity to Observe this week.  For the past few days, I have been enraged, and I watched myself eat everything in sight.  This sounds like I was conscious.  I was not.  I was given moments, flashes, where awareness occurred in spite of the boiling rage.  These were gifts borne of Practice.  In those moments, I could see I was suffering and making the suffering worse.  I tried to hold my anger gently.  Then, the anger would wash over me, and I would go back to sleep.

Anger is part of my illness.  It is also part of being Human.  Rage does not make me a monster or a lunatic, but it pulls me from the path I want to travel.  This morning I knew I must find a different way to work with this particular manifestation of anger if I was to continue on my chosen path.  I needed a practice.  Admitting that made me remember a book I’d not touched in a long time, a book by someone I consider my Teacher—Thich Nhat Hanh.

What a shock to open his book and find the first chapter devoted to consumption.

We all need to know how to handle and take care of our anger.  To do this, we must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind.  When we analyze our anger, we can see its physiological elements.  We have to look deeply at how we eat, how we drink, how we consume, and how we handle our body in our daily life.

I expected my Teacher to offer me a way to take care of my anger so I could stop compulsively eating.  How ironic, how very Buddhist, to discover that Mindful Eating is the way.  At least, the first step of the Way.  So, today I will start.  I will follow the Mindfulness Training on consumption…

…to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.  I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations…

Today I will slow down and try to stay conscious about what I take in, not feeding the anger, not building more energy for my anger to use.  I will breathe, and practice, and try to be open to what rises in me.  The path is before me.  This is the first step.

Excerpts from Anger—Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hahn.

Becoming

What a wacky week.

On one hand, the rapid cycling and slow-motion despair dragged me into a “What’s the Use?” thought loop that quickly spiraled into suicidal ideation.  On the other hand, I was this month’s Biggest Loser at TOPS with a 9.6 pound weight loss.  The fact that I made it out the other side of this bipolar frenzy makes me know, deep in my soul, that I can make it through anything.  I told a friend, “If I didn’t kill myself this week, I never will.”

And that feels absolutely true.  Not delusional.  Not wishful thinking.

I could feel the Bad-Ass coming back yesterday, but I had to keep searching for her.  My grip would slip, but if I concentrated, I could find that sense of ferocity, that drive to survive and beat back the darkness.  That sure-footedness is a little stronger today.

I know I’m not done with the stress of challenging my compulsive eating and changing the fabric of my life.  I know the stress will trigger my illness again.  And again.  But somehow this battle is bringing me back to myself.  I’m finding a partner in me, someone I can finally count on to guard my back instead of sabotaging my efforts.  A new level of self-trust is forming, a new confidence.  I like this person I’m becoming.

Today I have to agree with Nietzsche—That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

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