New Year’s Resolutions—Bad-Ass Style

Kate Beckinsale, UnderworldIt’s a game, really, those resolutions.  Something to banter back and forth at the holiday party.  Idle daydreams and wishful thinking.  They swell the enrollments at the YMCA and Weight Watchers in January.  But by March those numbers shrink back to normal.  Resolutions are a little squirt of will power soon overtaken by inertia.

But, see, I’ve gotten this resolution thing down.  Bipolar Bad-Assery takes resolution and slams it to the ground.

A friend asked me recently if I had a good 2012.  In all honesty, I had to say it was the best and the worst year I’d had in a long time.  Lots of physical illness, several surgeries, and rampaging rapid cycling mixed with amazing new friends, a solid weight loss and the completion my novel.  And that’s exactly what Bad-Assery is all about—living and growing in tandem with mental illness.

Eowyn, Lord of the Rings, Miranda OttoEvery time the illness loosens its grasp I review my resolutions and set my priorities.  Every time.  I struggle out from under the dead bodies, wipe the gore off my face, and start the long process of clearing away the wreckage.

Each time I ask myself the same questions.  What’s most important to my health and wellbeing?  What habits, activities, or practices did I abandon during this episode that I need to re-engage?  What ones are unrealistic and need revision?  Is there anything new I can try?

What I’ve learned is that there’s no way to do this perfectly.  There’s just doing it.  Every day my brain can hold onto some level of stability is a Training Day.  Inertia may drag at me to watch TV or beg off from getting together with friends, but Bad-Ass Training means pushing against inertia.  It means holding the tension of doing something that’s a little uncomfortable.  And the more I can hold that tension, the more tension I can tolerate.

Bipolar Bad-Assery is resolution—to come back, to live, to thrive.  It’s not a game to toss around at parties, but I try to remember to keep it playful—to inject it with humor, and dreaming, and a sense of exploration.  Though those might manifest in a twisted Bruce Willis/Xena/Worf kind of way.  Whatever works, right?

Yippee Ki Yay, Gabriella.  It is a good day to die.

Don’t Touch that Dial!

My initial plan for living without TV was to see how it went for three days (until weigh-in at TOPS).  I realized unplugging completely would be another case of Black or White/All or Nothing thinking, a pattern of mine that is usually unrealistic and breaks down fairly quickly.

Balance has always been elusive.  Perhaps being a Libra with bipolar disorder tips the scales (so to speak), and I overcompensate to aim for that center line.  Or perhaps with so much that is unmanageable in my life, I clutch at ways to take control.  Whatever powers may be in play, pathological or cosmic, I’ve learned this about myself and try to loosen my thinking and actions from their rigid, polar leanings.

The statistics for those three days didn’t really surprise me.  I took in 1000 calories less each day and ended up losing 4 pounds for the week.

I still went to my friends’ house on Wednesday night for our Criminal Minds date.  It was the two-hour season finale, and I watched closely as my desire to eat woke up toward the end of the first hour.  My thoughts kept sliding to what I could forage from my friends’ kitchen.  As the show continued, I started planning my attack on the Kwik Stop on the way home—Cheetos or Chips?  I watched and pushed against the compulsion, fell into the dream of the show, watched the desire rise, pushed against it.  This is what Ouspensky calls strengthening the Will as opposed to exercising will power.  Tomato, tomah-to…

So, now what?  TV is definitely a portal to my compulsive eating.  Do I use it as a tool or chain it up and toss it onto oblivion?  Can I hold the awareness it would take to work with it?  What about when the next bipolar episode arrives and I need a cheap, easy form of distraction?

I journaled about this for several hours and found no easy answers.  Of course.  If it was easy, someone would have written a book about it by now.  I think I’ll leave the TV off for now, not shun it, not cast it into the Fires of Hell.  If I need it, it will be there.  Along with a little notebook to record my Observations and help me hold awareness.  Maybe that will help me push against the compulsion when it rises.  Maybe not.

In the meantime, I have a lot of my own Programming to Watch.

A Bold, Bad-Ass Move

Turn off the TVWell, for me it is, anyway.  I’ve decided to unplug my TV this week.

As I read through my old journals, pulling out tidbits that might be useful in my next writing project, I see over and over again how I lament over my inability to stop eating while I watch TV.  For decades, I’ve been moaning about this.  For awhile I even lived without a TV (but soon after that I was diagnosed as bipolar, so the jury is still out on whether that additional stress was a good idea or not).

This morning, I berated myself once again for bingeing while channel surfing.  Watching TV is the perfect set up for compulsive eating.  It lulls me, distracts me, siphons away any awareness or consciousness I might have scraped together.  It’s a great tool when my illness is loud and dangerous.  TV is the shiny object that distracts the toddler from sticking her finger in the electrical outlet.

But compulsions rise out of mindlessness.  They operate best in the dark when no one is looking.

I believe the only way I will ever push against my compulsions is to See them.  I have to be alert enough to notice when they show up, feel them in my body, and stay with them long enough to keep from acting blindly.  I may still fall prey to them, but at least I’ll have a fighting chance.

Losing weight is only a small part of why I need to do this.  My compulsions are my Edge right now, the Next Thing in my quest to live a sane life.  Compulsive eating, spending, and sexual fantasy control me.  They are the mindless monsters that take over and use my body and mind.  When the depression and mania come, there’s no stopping them.

Xena Warrior Princess Bad-AssIt’s only now, in the between time, that I have any chance to practice pushing against them.  This is part of my Bad-Ass Training, and like any warrior, I need to be willing to step up to the challenge.  After only one day with the TV silent, I can feel the itch.  I’m uncomfortable and want to be soothed.  Like any habit, this will be hard to kick.  And like everything else in my life, I will succeed and fail.  But, each time I Look, each time I hold the tension between Falling Asleep and Waking Up, I’ll strengthen my sword arm.

I’m on an Adventure.

A Bad-Ass Review

A page has turned.

Or, maybe, a season is done.

Whatever the metaphor, I’ve put closure to a few major events in my life—healing from surgery, Callinda, and celebrating Callinda.  Now it’s time to regroup, refocus and point myself in the next direction.

To do that, I turn to my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, which seems odd since I’m not coming out of a bipolar episode.  But, the last six weeks threw my normal routine out the window, and Bad-Assery is all about putting routine back in place and setting focus.

Clean Eating

I was thrilled that I got all the party left-overs out of my apartment before I indulged in more than one binge.  Saturday night, I was exhausted after cleaning and schlepping.  All I wanted to do was self-medicate with food and go numb in front of the TV, which I did.  But, the next morning I gave away the rest of the left-overs or threw them in the dumpster.  Better in there than in me.

Getting too tired, too emotional, or too rigid are guaranteed triggers of my compulsive eating.  I’m pleased that I minimized the damage and am back to Paying Attention in this area.

Stamina and Strength

I’ve returned to my 6:00 AM water aerobics class.  I can still feel some soreness, and I’m not as fast or strong as when I left six weeks ago, but I’m back.  I know that a huge part of my quick recovery is due to my level of fitness going into surgery.  That feels wonderful.  Me?  Fit?  Who woulda thunk it?

The next physical issue to address will be my shoulder, reinjured when I swam laps in December.  My chiropractor suggested I get an MRI to check for structural damage, so I have an appointment to see my medical doc in a few weeks.

Set Priorities

My basic priorities remain the same—Write, Make Art and Make a Life.  Today I started working on what I’m calling my Bad-Assery manuscript—my experience as a bipolar warrior.  Lots of work to be done, lots of research to explore, but today I started.

For the next month or so, I’ll be devoting my art time to drawing.  I can feel a big boulder of resistance in my gut over this, but just like I pushed through my fear of writing, I can push through my fear of drawing.  Each time I pick up my pencil, I will feel the resistance and push back, just a little bit.  Holding this tension will strengthen my Will and give me more energy to push back the next time.  Growing my Will is important.  It will help me to push back against my compulsive impulses when they rise.  Anyway I can do that deserves time and attention.

For me, making a life means finding ways to be in the community.  Tutoring kids was too stressful and helping at the Animal Rescue League was too sad.  So, I stopped at the library today to see if they could use a volunteer.  I’ll talk to the person in charge about details tomorrow.  There’s also my involvement in TOPS and the Unitarian Universalist group.  A Life is definitely being made.

Lay in Supplies

There are chores and maintenance items to attend to, things I let go because I either wasn’t strong enough after surgery, didn’t have the time while planning for the party, or didn’t have the money.  It’s time to take care of those things.

Refocus.  Regroup.  Take stock.  And take the next step.

I’m ready.

Count the Blessings

I’ve been down with an intestinal flu the last couple of days.  Nothing to do but watch movies, drink ginger ale and ponder the year that’s about to end.  But pondering can be a dangerous exercise, especially when I’m sick and in the middle of an episode.  I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to give too much attention to the thoughts that swirl up then.  Too much darkness, too much regret, too much grief.  So instead, I’ll focus on a few of the blessings 2011 brought me.

A place to sell my art cards.  My last visit at The Perfect Setting was disappointing compared to all the other times I’ve sold my cards there.  Pam, the owner, placed another employee in charge of the greeting cards.  This person pulled a couple of mine as “inappropriate”.  It seems she and I don’t share the same sense of humor.  So, Pam bought only half of the bunch I brought in this time instead of all of them.

Even though I know better, I took it very personally.  I know every shop has to make careful selection and cater to the clientele, but it surprised me since Pam always seemed to love everything I brought in.  Every artist has to tailor their work to fit the market—I know and understand this.  It just caught me on a very bad day, and I haven’t been able to sit at my studio table since.

This isn’t sounding much like gratitude.  But I am extremely grateful to Pam for taking a chance with my work.  She hung my weird collages even though no one in Marshalltown will ever buy them.  She bought all my cards, even when her other employees raised eyebrows.  She let me be the square peg in the town’s round hole—no one else here has ever done that for me.  Yes, I’m grateful.  And eventually, I’ll start making more of the cards that the town will accept—along with a few naughty ones.

Healing.  This year I learned how to manage without psychotropic medication.  I developed my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training guidelines.  I graduated from the Silver Sneakers water exercise class to the deep water, high-powered, water aerobics class.  I pushed the envelope of my reading disability and actually finished eleven whole books this year.  I’m learning how to be a woman alone without being lonely all the time.  I’ve moved past my fear of cooking and can now fix supper for myself every night.  I’ve started again on the weight loss journey, losing 12 pounds since my visit with the allergist at the beginning of December.

It’s an important practice to remember all the healing this year brought, all the hard work and dedication I put into it.  The illness always grabs center stage.  The loss of Will, the scrambled routine, the swamping thoughts tear down self-worth and confidence.  It’s so easy to see only failure.  So, remembering the success and joy play a vital part in bringing reality back to true.

Saying Good-bye to my dad on my terms.  I am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad in his final days and participate in his funeral in a meaningful way.  It was a gift.  Just as easily, my illness might have flared like it did this past Christmas, incapacitating me and keeping me from any human interaction.  Frankly, I expected to be a nut case during my dad’s rituals, and the stress did eventually cause an episode.  But I was fully there when I most wanted to be.  A miracle.  A prayer answered.

These are just a few of the gifts the Heart of the Universe placed in my lap this year.  What treasures did you receive?

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.

The Coward’s Hour

Three o’clock in the morning.  That’s when it hits.  All my ideals about Will and duty and perspective wither.  They’re nothing more than whistling in the dark.

I want to be a good daughter, a brave woman, a decent human being.  But thinking about going back to the nursing home to see my dad—with bed sores now, and a bladder infection, and the petulant confusion that the inmates there always develop—makes my stomach ache.  I’ve worked in nursing homes, this very same one, in fact.  They are the stuff of nightmares, at least my nightmares.  The indignity and suffering seep under the skin like the smell—faint, almost covered, but still there.

This is the time, when most of the world sleeps, when traffic on my street thins and only the train whistles break the silence.  There’s too much space for my fear.  It stretches like taffy, folds back on itself with revulsion, then sorrow, then determination, then resignation.  The urge to run and keep running pushes against that other force.  What is it?  Also faint and almost covered, it’s nearly unrecognizable, and not nearly strong enough.  My love for my dad.

Three o’clock in the morning.  That’s when I know.  I’m such a coward.

BOGO from Hell

The depression has been back a couple of days now.  With all the other difficulties going on right now—still being sick, Dad’s deteriorating condition, the family’s hysteria—pushing against another bipolar episode feels like the Halloween version of a Buy One, Get One Free sale.

It’s already hard to get out of bed with the croup, but the depression makes it a monumental struggle.  I’ve needed to summon my Will to get to the nursing home to visit Dad and to try to get back to the Y, if only to walk in the water a little bit.  Now those things are near impossible.

But the worst are the thoughts.  A person tends to get a little maudlin and self-absorbed when down with an illness, but depression compounds those grumbles.  They multiply, turning neutral events into nightmares and boiling up a whole stew of concocted disasters.  Out of self defense, I’ve just shut the processor down as much as possible.  When a thought rises, positive or negative, I beat it back with my book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku.  I watch TV.

Unfortunately, I also eat.  Which means I’m spending too much at the grocery store.  Which means I’m really broke.  Which feeds the Disaster Stew Pot.

So much for Will right now, too.

Laying in the hot tub at the Y this morning, I reminded myself that “this will pass.”  If I can just keep beating back the thought gremlins, this episode will shift, I’ll get over the bronchitis, and I’ll be able to do the right and proper things for my dad and the family.  Just not right now.  Right now I’ve got to keep from being buried by the bargains from this BOGO from Hell.

Not Underestimating

Never underestimate our inclination to bolt.—Pema Chodron

Every fiber in my being tells me to run.  Don’t stop to pack a bag.  Don’t leave a note.  Just throw on some shoes, grab the keys and get out of Dodge.  All this end-of-life business with my dad shouts Danger!  Land mines and razor wire ahead!  I’d Turn Back If I Were You!

They’re coming.  The old family issues are working their way up to the surface like shrapnel.  And along with that itchy, fevered momentum, I feel myself assuming my usual role in the family—the Baby.  As the Baby in the Family, I do what I’m told, can’t be held responsible, and toddle off to stay out of the way.  But, I’m not the only one tying on my old mantle.  My sister is Cleaning.  My brother is Absent.  Mom is Fretting.  We’re like retired superheroes pulling on Spandex that holds our younger shape, but doesn’t quite fit anymore.

What’s a girl to do except beat feet?

First, I’ll try to stay awake and not slide into the comfort of oblivion.  If I can identify the old shards as they pimple my psychic flesh, I can extract them before they fester.  If I can recognize old patterns of thinking, I can challenge them before they turn into old patterns of behavior.

Second, I will practice Will.  So, while my body tells me to run, I will stay.  My intention is to visit my dad every day.  Not entertain him, not fix him, just visit him.  I will be available to my family.  I will take initiative.

And my ability to do these things will wax and wane.  As my friend Lily says, I will do the best I can, and that will be enough.

Just wrap my car keys in this old Spandex and put them where I can’t find them, would you?

Funerals & Other Acts of Will

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a good friend’s mother.  It was one of those mixed-blessing deaths.  Matt’s mother had been ill a long time, and the family had been planning her passing for a while.  So, while they mourned, they were also relieved.  Plus, she worshiped in a Baptist church where the message was all about joy, big smiles and being welcomed Home.

Matt is a sensitive, dear soul, and even though I knew he was ready for his mother’s death, I wanted to support him the best way I could.  When we get together, we are obnoxious, irreverent and a regular laugh-riot in our own minds.  I wasn’t sure that would be suitable at a funeral, but I was willing to go where ever he need to.

We ended up sitting together at the post-service luncheon, laughing (like we always do) and talking in British accents (his mother was from England).  He told hilarious stories about his mom and his family, pointing out the story characters to me as they got up for more potato salad or wandered between tables.  At one point, he wiped his eyes from laughing so hard and said, “This is what Mom would have wanted.”

It wasn’t easy for me to plunk myself in the middle of a big social gathering, or to sit through the minister’s propaganda. I’m glad I prepared myself with funeral advice and general social guidelines for such sensitive social gatherings, click here to see what I read to get ready. Even though my courage wasn’t not at full complicity, I gathered myself and stayed strong.   Love can get you out of your chair when nothing else works.  It was a small act of will, a push to do something I really didn’t want to do, a choice to set my desires aside and take action in a different direction.  I felt that tiny expansion inside, and I felt Matt relax.  I’m so glad I went.

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