Category: Health


Stigma


I’ve watched the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge with some interest.  At first I didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t clear as to how dumping  buckets of ice water over people’s heads was raising money for ALS.  A friendly discussion enlightened me as to how the awareness had raised millions of dollars, as well as giving people a brief glimpse into how an ALS patient feels.  Both goals of the Ice Bucket Challenge intrigued me, being a sufferer of another sometimes deadly and underfunded disease, bipolar disorder.  I also have friends who suffer from clinical depression.  Was there a way to mimic the effects of that disease, or at least depression?  Mental illness research is underfunded in large part because people don’t understand it, and people always fear what they don’t understand.  If there could be a way to make a neurotypical person understand what it’s like to be depressed, or autistic, or schizophrenic, people might be more sympathetic.

Even if there are ways to simulate the effects of various mental disorders, there still remains the stubborn refusal of a large portion of society to accept that mental illnesses are diseases just like illnesses that cause physical symptoms.  Mental illnesses also have their origins in physical processes: their symptoms just manifest in the mind instead of the body.  And some people do have physical effects because of their mental illness: body aches and pains, fatigue, and clumsiness are just a few.  Yet there are still those who insist that taking medication is a weakling’s solution to a problem that can be fixed with diet and behavior modification.  This attitude typically manifests as, “If you only did more of activity X, you wouldn’t be depressed.”  Part of this problem is perpetuated by the fallacious assumption that most people get depressed.  No, most people get the blues.  Having the blues is an entirely different animal than having clinical depression or other mental illnesses.  Its effects may be somewhat mitigated by diet and lifestyle changes, but you cannot cure mental illness with those things.  Nor is it appropriate to compare the effects of the blues and those of depression.  One is a temporary state of lowering of mood that can generally be affected by making some basic changes in one’s life, while the other is a debilitating state of existence that can generally only be helped with therapy and/or medication, and sometimes even then it is nigh on impossible to get to a place of stability because psych meds work differently on everyone.

It’s bad enough to deal with a public perception of being weak or just lazy, but it’s quite another to deal with unfounded fears fed by mass media.  Tell someone you’re bipolar, and they’re likely to take a step or two back from you, because there’s a societal presumption that bipolar people are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous.  This myth is propogated by media that focuses on the most isolated, sensational stories they can find about mental illness.  Fear of other people’s judgment causes a great number of bipolar people (and those with other mental illnesses) to not say anything to anyone about their illness.  This causes isolation, which is not healthy for people with mental illness, moreso than with neurotypical people.  We need support networks if we’re going to stay healthy and balanced, and we don’t get that if we have to hide.

The only way to combat the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it, which makes most people very uncomfortable.  People don’t like the notion that something could go wrong in their brains that would cause them to behave in abnormal ways.  However irrational, there is still a public perception that mental illness can “catch”.  Which in one way can be true: it can be maddening to deal with the mentally ill.  They display behaviors that neurotypical people classify as things that can be changed with behavior modification and lifestyle changes.  And for most people, that’s true.  An attitude adjustment, a shift in diet, some exercise, and maybe some counseling will set most people back on the path of happiness.  Unfortunately that’s just not true with the mentally ill, some of whom do display behaviors that can frighten others.  People’s fears and assumptions combine in a way that essentially shuns the mentally ill from greater society.

This societal attitude manifests partially as a lack of funding for mental illness research.  Despite being one of the most costly and prevalent causes of missed work and disability, mental illness gets very little attention unless a pharmaceutical company is marketing another antidepressant or antipsychotic.  True research into the causes of mental illness falls far below that of other chronic illnesses.  Until this situation is rectified, mental illness will continue to be one of America’s biggest and least talked about problems.

Prevailing social attitudes are slowly shifting as more people are diagnosed with mental illness and public education increases, but there still remains the stubborn perception of many that the mentally ill are just making excuses for wanting to be lazy, that we could be doing more to “cure” what they don’t see as a legitimate disease, just a fault in the human spirit.  We are asked stupid, rude questions like, “Have you tried not being depressed?”  As if we want to be this way.  Even loved ones of the mentally ill will make erroneous assumptions about someone’s behavior and attribute ALL of a person’s actions to their mental illness, constantly asking them if they’re on their meds.

Public perception of mental illness is unlikely to change until the mass media stops latching onto every isolated incidence of violence that MAY be due to mental illness (and not all are: some people are just mean).  There need to be more stories sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill, that shed light on the various conditions instead of pushing them back into the shadows.  More research needs to be done on the brain to determine the causes of mental illnesses so that they can be treated more effectively.

I do my part by writing these blog entries (that very few people probably read) and not letting my shame and embarrassment about being mentally ill impede my ability to write and talk about how my illness affects me.  I have a zero tolerance policy with people that treat me with kid gloves or avoid me because I’m bipolar.  Fortunately, I have friends with mental illness, and my friends who don’t are very supportive, educated, and understanding.  Not all people are so lucky, though.  It’s those people who need our help the most.

If you know someone with mental illness, in particular one of the more misunderstood ones like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, don’t be afraid of them.  If they’re doing things that frighten or upset you, tell them: they may have no idea that they’re misbehaving.  Talk to them about their disease and ask them how it affects them.  It will help ease your own fears and make the other person feel understood and not so alone.  If they’re unable to talk to you about their disease, do your own research.  Be a good advocate for their health, and if they’re a danger to themselves or someone else, don’t be afraid to call the police if they’re unresponsive to communication.  Most of them will thank you for your concern afterwards.  The ones who don’t are in some ways the people that deserve our sympathy and understanding the most, for they are living in hell.  That is probably the most important thing for neurotypicals to understand about the mentally ill: we do live in hell and would probably cut off limbs to be right in the head again.  We don’t want to be this way, and most of us are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of our illness.

I leave you with this handy graphic that will hopefully illustrate how silly it is the way we treat people with mental illness.

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Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.


When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

Clean Slate


It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.

Tired


Hello depression, my old friend. We’ve written and called several times in recent months, but we haven’t been bosom buddies in quite a while. We seem to be having a right and proper visit at the moment, though. I can’t say I’m happy to see you. You tell me I’m a loser and take away what precious little motivation I have. Not to mention my libido. You make me dwell on things that are long past, and on things I can do nothing about. You make me worry about the future and envision one that is dark and filled with dread. You take away my hope and replace it with despair. You stain my shirts with tears. You worry my family. You make me hide my pain from others to keep them from that worry. You dull my emotions and twist my inner vision until I can no longer appreciate love and praise from those around me. Every now and then, you even make me think about death, oh so briefly.

But most of all, you make me tired. Tired of dealing with the same issues over and over and over again. Tired of feeling sad. Tired of feeling hopeless. Tired of worrying. Tired of feeling joyless. Tired of having no motivation. Tired of feeling worthless. Tired of crying. Tired of having my senses dulled. Tired of wishing I could be like everyone else. Tired of yearning for happiness.

Tired, of being tired. Please, go back the way you came, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I have so many things beckoning me, so many people ready to engage with me, and you’re ruining it all. You’ve ruined so many things over the years, I don’t have enough words or tears for them all.

I won’t let you ruin one more thing by making me dwell on all of those other ruined things, though. They’re past, and they’re not my fault. My best weapons against you are the little army of brown bottles in the medicine cupboard designed to correct my faulty brain chemistry, and dwelling in the present and the good things and people that are here. Exercise and some time sitting in the quiet with the wind on my face wouldn’t hurt, either.

So consider yourself warned, depression. Yes, I’m tired, but I still have some energy left and a lot of tools in my toolbox. Your days are numbered, buddy.

 

Starting Slow


I’m trying to get my yoga and karate practice going again after quite a long absence, around six months.  My hiatus was for a few reasons, not the least of which was I just wanted a break from everything.  I felt spread a bit thin between family, work, and other obligations and I just wanted some time to let everything settle before trying to get a routine going again.

I also wanted to let my body rest.  Since beginning karate in late 2009, I injured my shoulder between doing the karate and doing my day job, which was cleaning houses.  Cleaning your own house is one thing: cleaning several houses a week for a few hours a day is quite another, and my shoulder let me know it loud and clear.  Unfortunately, shoulders are some of the longest-healing joints in the body because they’re almost impossible to immobilize, being the joints with the greatest range of motion.  I had to quit cleaning houses, which didn’t bother me all that much, but it was still another year before my shoulder healed, and even after that year it wasn’t completely happy.  Hence the six-month break.

Well it’s all better now, and will stay that way as long as I’m careful with it and don’t go back to cleaning houses.  The break killed my fitness level, though.  So did a year of pharmaceutical issues stemming from last year’s bipolar diagnosis, which caused me to gain a lot of weight.  The combination of the two has made getting back into the swing of things difficult.  Fortunately, I’m not in as bad of shape as I feared I was, though I am way out of breath by the end of class.  That was a nice confidence boost: I was really afraid of being unable to keep up.  Remembering all of my karate moves: that’s a different story.  The mind seems to be rustier than the body, but I figure that will follow in due time.

I’ve also gone back to yoga class, which was made immeasurably easier by two things: not having to shell out $100 to renew my yoga pass due to a strange quirk of record keeping, and hooking up with a friend to support one another in going to yoga class.  I tried my first kundalini yoga class, which was very interesting!  It was very different from your standard yoga class and involved a lot of breathwork and energy movement.  I found it very cleansing, which was the purpose!  I’ll be going back to that one for sure.  I’ll also be going back to restorative and gentle yoga classes until I know I can handle a standard hatha class.  I know if I try one of those now I’ll just get frustrated because my balance and strength aren’t up to snuff.

Starting slow is really important to maintaining focus and stamina for me, otherwise I give up.  I was very tempted to jump back into my old routine with both feet because I remembered how nice it was to be in that old groove, but I knew that would be a bad move since it had been so long, I’m so overweight, and am so out of shape.  On the other hand, starting really slowly showed me where I did not need to go so slow, which was a nice confidence booster.  I was glad that I didn’t have to start back at square one in all aspects of my training, but I’m also glad I gave myself permission to take it easy.

Tearful but Productive


I’ve been crying a lot the last few days.  Whether it’s because of hormones, or because of sadness over the cats, it doesn’t matter really.  I’ve felt sad, and so I’ve been crying.  Or I’ve been frustrated, and so I’ve been crying.  Sometimes I’ve been angry, and so I’ve cried.  I’ve tried not to judge it too much and just see it as my psyche needing to purge extra feelings.

Not that I haven’t been entitled to extra feelings.  I’ve had a frustrating week, I feel.  I’ve been feeling the absence of the cats very keenly for some reason.  It was the same Moon sign as it was when YinYang died, and it was also the same time in my hormonal cycle as it was when I was dealing with both of their illnesses.

I’ve also been working on my book, which is always frustrating.  I do a little bit, and then get stuck.  Usually because I’m waiting on edits from other people.  I hate to put it that way because it makes me sound ungrateful, which I’m not.  I’m extremely grateful for the time other people are giving me towards editing or just plain reading and opinion-giving.  I’m starting to get really antsy, though.  I want to move forward, and I can’t.

As such, I’m trying to divert my need to write something into other projects, like the other two writing projects that grew out of the primary one: the travelogues, and the one I refer to as “tapestry” which is made of all of the photographs and letters and other objects from my grandmother that tells the story of the women in my family.  It sheds a lot of light on the relationship between the women in the family too, at least Mom and Gram anyway.  It’s interesting, especially when overlaid onto the history of the timespan it covers.  Unfortunately, it’s a fuckload of material.  There are letters that span over 70 years, and almost as many photographs.  Not to mention all of the genealogical information.  I’m drowning in all of that stuff.  It’s overwhelming.

The travelogues, on the other hand, are almost written.  Their drawback is that they’re dependent on the main project to make sense, to a certain extent.  Unless I remove all text that refers to the main storyline.  That would make them sound weird, though.  I don’t think they’d stand on their own, not all of them anyway.  I’d have to try it and see.

Then there are the blogs.  I have this one that I’ve been working on that I’m thinking of adopting a daily theme for.  I.e. Meditation Monday, Witchy Wednesday, so on and so forth.  It would make me stay on top of content and would hopefully draw more traffic.

I’ve also made another site that might not necessarily be a blog per se, but a place to put more formal articles and that is more about me and has my name for a title.  A site for a “writer”, as recommended by Writer’s Market, which I’ve been reading for the last two days in the absence of the ability to actually do any writing.  I also made a separate Twitter account and am thinking of making separate Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well.  I had a LinkedIn account but recently deactivated it because it was pretty well useless.  Then again, I wasn’t using it specifically for writing purposes.

So this one will probably stay pretty much the same topic-wise, it will just get re-organized.  The other one will be more formal and will hold my articles that I spend more time and research on and will hold more biographical material.

Looks like I’m really serious about trying to be a professional writer after years of bellyaching about being an amateur one.

Up Yours, Universe


I’m really not enjoying life right now.  Around the time that the cat died two weeks ago, I started having a recurrence of a strange breathing issue I have from time to time.  It basically keeps me from being able to take a deep breath whenever I want to.  It has its origins partially in my allergies, and partially in anxiety.  I start having trouble because of the allergies, which makes me anxious, which makes the problem worse.  I haven’t figured out how to make it go away yet.  It just happens spontaneously.

Consequently, I’m getting really shitty sleep right now since I pretty much can’t lay down to sleep.  Whatever this fuckuppery my lungs likes to play on me gets worse when I’m reclining.  I’ve largely slept either in a recliner or on the couch the last two nights.

I don’t imagine the anxiety component is made any better by the fact that I’m on deathwatch with yet another cat.  This time it’s YinYang’s mother, Babalon.  Obviously, she’s a bit older than he was when he died a couple of weeks ago.  She also looks much worse.  She’s been sick for at least two years, is nothing but fur and bones, and looks like she has at least two paws in the grave.  Her condition has grown much worse in the past few days and I’m fairly certain I’ll be sending another pet on its way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky sooner rather than later.  Because what I really need right now is to dig another hole in my back yard.

So between the dead and dying cats, my allergies, and my anxiety, my sleep is suffering.  I believe the appropriate word to use to describe my current demeanor would be “punchy”.  I really want nothing more than 8-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I would particularly like it to be uninterrupted by the need to suddenly sit upright to alleviate the sensation of suffocating.  I’d love to induce sleep pharmaceutically, but my supply of appropriate meds is quite low due to the last dying cat incident and due to my psych nurse adjusting my scrip down without really discussing it with me (which is the first time he’s done something to annoy me).

All of which will be discussed at my appointment later today, along with the apparent necessity that I take a drug that costs $13 a pill (just my fucking luck: dozens of psychiatric medications at my disposal, and the one that works is the most recent in a new string of horribly expensive drugs that unfortunately do their job really well).  I’ll be spending some time delving into the world of online pharmacies.

So no, I’m really not enjoying life at the moment.  I want my cat back, and I want to breathe properly.

Rekindling


My karate dojo had a silent auction fundraiser last night. I brought my henna and glitter stuff to do body art for donation, even though I haven’t done either of those things in almost two years. I was a little nervous. I was worried I would suck after such a long time. A feeling that wasn’t made any better by my small practice design I did on my own hand, although I doubt that whatever I did would have made me happy. I’ve been suffering from a misperception about my art. Everything I do looks like ass to me, no matter how much other people love it.

It was nice to do that again, though. I only drew on or glittered a few people, but it was nice to be able to give something beautiful to someone and have them appreciate it. I worked for donations only. One of the things that killed my passion for henna two years ago was that I had been trying to monetize something that really is a sacred art to me, and to the people in the countries who use henna. I’m not a big believer in being rewarded or punished by a higher power, but in this case I do feel that, according to my own personal standards, I was suffering the consequences of trying to turn a sacred art into something that was NOT sacred.

So I stopped doing it altogether, and I’ve missed it so. I really have. There was a peaceful sensation to doing henna on myself that I had lost due to subverting that sacredness. I had lost my religion, so to speak. Well, last night I feel like I found it again in some small measure. Even though all I can see are the mistakes in the design I drew on myself, I once again feel a sense of fascination with the results of the bizarre plant that is henna, which is green but leaves a deep red stain. I love that dichotomy. And I love the ever-changing nature of a henna design. It’s different every day, like a living tattoo, albeit a temporary one.

I also rekindled another dormant desire, the one that made me want to go to karate class. The last time I was in class was the beginning of November. I had gotten my advanced yellow belt not long before, and for some reason I just wasn’t motivated to go to class. A few weeks turned into a few months, and I decided that I was just taking a hiatus from karate for an indefinite time period. I knew I would want to go back at the right time. Which seems to be now. I was very inspired by the black belt demonstration at the auction. I was reminded of what I liked about karate.

Now I just have to get over my self-consciousness at my woeful fitness level, larger size, and rustiness. I have inspiration for that too, luckily. I have my own past experience which tells me that I really can lose a lot of weight, it just takes time. I also have other students at the dojo to inspire me. One lady in particular has been busting her ass since she got there a couple of years ago and has lost an amazing amount of weight, about the same amount that I need to lose. Now, I don’t want to focus on losing pounds so much as I want to focus on being fit and healthy. Nevertheless, to be truly fit and healthy, I need to drop about 50 pounds to get myself to around 195. That’s the weight at which it becomes easier to find clothing that fits and at which I do not feel physically hampered by my weight or size. I can do yoga easily. I can do hard exercise without feeling like I’m going to die. And I feel better about myself, which is just about as important as the physical health benefits.

So tomorrow, I’m taking my karate stuff with me when I go to work, and I’ll split my shift so I can attend class. I’ll probably stick to the white belt classes for a few weeks, but then I’ll expand to other classes. Especially kata. I really love kata, and I have at least two new ones to learn from my promotion back in October. I also love the mental strength that comes with karate. I felt a lot more confident when I was going to class regularly. Once I get my class rhythm back, I’m going to work hard to keep it. I really do want to get my black belt someday. Then I get to play with staffs and break things. 😀

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