Category: Psychology


A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

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.

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.

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.

 

The Judge and the Victim


I realized that I have been ignoring a great free resource: podcasts.  I have an iPhone: there’s no reason for me not to stock up on a variety of podcasts covering a wide range of all of the topics that always concern me.  Since almost everything that bothers me winds up boiling down to my baggage, I focused on the meditation and self-help sections of the podcast store in iTunes.

I ran across one called Happiness Through Self Awareness that looked interesting.  I gave one cast entitled “Stop Beating Yourself Up” a try, and learned quite a bit.  He talked about how it was impossible for something to beat itself up: there have to be two parts, the beater and the the part being beaten.  He called them the judge and the victim.  I found the distinction to be very elucidating.

He went on to describe the judge as being something of a perfectionist: an all-knowing entity that never makes mistakes telling you how you’ve gone wrong and how you don’t measure up.  The victim is the exact opposite: a part of you that knows nothing and can do nothing right.  Our angst when we are “beating ourselves up” is because these are diametrically opposed viewpoints that can’t exist at the same time: you have to pick one.

In picking one, you free yourself from the struggle and remove the toxicity.  When you pick the judge, you take on the mantle of confidence that goes with knowing everything (even though of course you don’t) and you can stop being so mean to yourself.  When you pick the victim, you accept that you don’t have the knowledge and can view yourself with compassion.  Either way, when you pick sides and stop trying to be both, you can stop being mean to yourself and view your mental processes with more compassion and understanding.

“Ah, here’s where I know what I’m doing, and here’s where I don’t.”

The two interplay off of each other.  When the victim doesn’t know what to do, the judge is there to help.  At this point, it’s helpful to find different labels for the judge and the victim, because once they’re operating in a more healthy dynamic, they’re not judgmental or victim-minded anymore.  Perhaps the parent and the child, or the student and the teacher.  The guru and the follower.

At least, that’s what I got out of that podcast.  It was pertinent knowledge to get in light of having a week in which I seriously flogged myself for one thing or another.  I look forward to the next one.

There’s a website that goes along with the podcasts: you can find it here.

Minefield


I’ve been inordinately preoccupied lately with the subject of how girls mature in the modern world, seeing as how I have a 9-year-old daughter who seems to be maturing at a frightening rate.  My own upbringing, along with cultural stereotypes, have primed me to see the teenage years as a minefield requiring an emotional flak jacket, forcing me to steel myself against having my daughter unwillingly ripped from my arms as she does everything in her power to separate herself from me using methods guaranteed to purposefully shock and horrify.

Pardon me while I attempt to rip this pair of shit-colored glasses from my face.

I know this is the most extreme version of adolescence possible, and it is generated by my fear that my daughter and I will have the same hate-filled relationship that my mother and I had.  I do not trust my own bipolar-addled mind to react in a healthy way to the vagaries of her changing brain in the coming years, and I’m terrified of ruining the relatively happy relationship that we have now.  I’ve also heard too many stories of mothers who have loving relationships with their daughters, only to have them turn sour once they become pre-teens and teenagers.

I’m also greatly disturbed by the cultural forces that are at work in my daughter’s life.  She is 9, but the kids at her school are already listening to music filled with descriptions of sex and partying, even the occasional mention of S&M (!).  I know she doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about (she didn’t even know what the word “porn” meant), but I do, and it bothers me.  A lot.

I would put my foot down and put an absolute ban on such music, but I’m wary of ostracizing her from her friends, which is just as damaging.  And as a very wise friend pointed out, you can’t dictate someone’s musical choices to them.  I’m also aware that every single  generation of parents has thought that the music their children were listening to was going to send them to Hell or ruin their morals.  I am equally aware that the things musicians have sung about really hasn’t changed, not in centuries.  People think of decades earlier in the 20th century as being more innocent somehow, but they were singing about the exact same things they’re singing about now.  Just not quite so blatantly.

There has to be a balance.  I must allow her to be the person she is, but without exposing her to things earlier than she should be exposed to them.  And that’s where the problem currently is.  I don’t know how to do that without cutting her off from the the things and friends that help her express her identity.  I know what it’s like to feel completely separate from everyone around you, and it’s terrible and will do just as much harm to her as not doing anything.

Music is just the tip of the iceberg.  She’s only in the 4th grade.  If there is a hell on earth, it must surely be middle school.  What’s going to happen then, when the minefield really begins in earnest?  Then there will be the clothing battles, and the battles over anything else that I feel oversexualizes her.  I probably will put my foot down with those things.  What about the other things I have to protect her from?  Cyberstalkers?  A culture that with one hand tells her that sex is bad but with the other that she must be a sexpot?  Our culture’s horrible views on body image and health?  Our culture’s twisted views on just about everything?  I sometimes question the wisdom of having a child at this time in history, although I suspect that, as with the music, every generation has felt the same way.

All of these things have stirred together in my brain into a melange of terror that will undoubtedly do its own damage even if everything else is going just fine.  I can barely sort my thoughts together.

I’m trying to turn to books for help, but cultural forces are changing so rapidly, what with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that almost all of them are woefully out of date.  Reviving Ophelia, written in 1994 and long held to be the gold standard of how to save our adolescent girls from the cultural forces at work in modern times, is grossly outdated (not to mention it views society through the lens of a psychologist who sees only troubled girls, and as such is extremely biased).  Surviving Ophelia is a similarly biased and outdated work that I refused to read as I knew it would only feed the fires of my fear, as did Reviving Ophelia.  I need something that will make me feel better, and empowered, not worse and powerless in the face of the forces I’m trying to battle.

There is one fight that only I have the power to help her win, and that is body image.  It is well known that daughters look to their mothers for how to treat and view their bodies, and that terrifies me, because I hate my body with a passion.  Hate it.  I’ve never had any reason at all to love it.  Why should I?  It’s never brought me anything but grief.  First in the form of negative attention from men and boys, and then in the form of an imbalanced endocrine system which has caused irregular, heavy periods my entire life.  Then I gained weight as a result of trying to make myself unattractive in an effort to shun the attention I got from men.

There was one very brief period in my life when I lost weight and was happy with my body and the attention I got, but my own mental baggage betrayed me once again, and I went back to hating my body and being ashamed of it, wanting to be ugly once again.  I’ve stayed that way ever since, even though I was really quite attractive, at least until I had a baby.  My husband tells me I’m still beautiful, but I don’t believe him.  I look in the mirror and am disgusted by what I see.  I detest what pregnancy did to my body and know that what beauty I did have before I had a baby, and did not appreciate, is gone forever.  I hate my hair.  I hate my skin.  I can’t think of a single thing about my body that I like.  I know that attitude is going to poison my beautiful daughter’s attitude about her own body, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I know there are people who think the way out of this trap is to look in the mirror and tell myself every day that I’m beautiful, but I want to choke when I think of doing that.  I can’t even imagine saying the words, let alone actually saying them.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror.  I don’t wear makeup: it just makes me feel like I have to go somewhere.  All I wear is t-shirts that cover up my body.  I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time.  I don’t take care of myself the way I should because I don’t see what the point is.  I don’t have a mental image in my head of what I looked like when I wasn’t fat, because I don’t think I ever actually looked at my whole body in the mirror.  Ever.  Certainly not on purpose with gladness.  Maybe if I was trying on clothes, but that’s it.  Even then, whatever I was trying on wasn’t for looks, it was for comfort and just to make sure it fit.

I don’t want to be this way.  I want to be someone who gets up in the morning and is happy to see the face and body in the mirror and wants to take care of them, to make them look pretty because they (I) am worth the attention and energy.  I want to be someone who makes the effort and time to go to the gym and to yoga and karate classes because they’re good for me and because they make my body look and feel better.  Mostly, though, I want to be someone who loves themselves enough to think themselves worthy of the effort of all of these things.  Because I don’t love myself.  I think I’m a pretty mediocre excuse for a human being.  Most days, all I can think of are all of the things I’ve ever done wrong and how I don’t measure up.  I certainly don’t treat my daughter the same way: quite the opposite in fact.  But I know the way I treat myself will seep into her psyche.  Maybe not now, but someday.

Maybe the minefield I have to navigate isn’t hers: it’s mine.

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

Openness


As I was saying in a post last Saturday, there’s been a lot of crying lately, either out of frustration or out of sadness or out of whatever.  Crying requires openness.  I can’t be tightened up and still cry.  Being sad about the cats lately has taught me that I have to open up and let go in front of other people, which is something that I have an extremely difficult time with.  Most of the people who know me have known me for quite a long time, but in all likelihood have never seen me cry.  I will engineer my life so that I express my sadness alone.

That’s not always possible, though, and it’s not always healthy.  People need each other’s kindness when they’re sad.  My daughter has seen me when I’m overcome with tears over the cats and she comes over and puts her arms around me, and it makes me feel better.  I’m sure the reverse would be true if our roles were also reversed.

This all reminds me of something I read either in a Buddhist or a yoga magazine sometime recently about meditation and how it opens you up.  Someone had written in confused about the sad and even angry feelings their meditation practice had brought up in addition to the peace and calm.  The answer was that meditation opened a person up to all of the sensitivities of emotion, not just the so-called positive ones.  Meditation puts us in touch with all of the emotions that we’re sitting on, even the yucky ones that make us feel bad.

Sometimes, though, I feel those are the ones that have to be processed the  most in order to let the ones that feel better to us, flourish and grow.*  The former have been sat on for a reason: they don’t feel good!  They just have to be dealt with, which means addressing how they got there in the first place.  Depending on what it is, that might mean a whole host of difficulties ranging from the very minor to the life changing.  No wonder we just push these things down and don’t want to meditate or do anything else that lets them bubble up.  It’s hard to stay open.  It feels vulnerable and dangerous.

The nice thing about meditation is that you don’t really have to DO anything with them.  You just let them BE.  You don’t have to judge them.  You don’t have to judge yourself.  Just simple acknowledgement is all that’s necessary, and the depth of that is up to you.  A full analysis of the situation might be useful, or a simple, “Yep, that came up, it can go now, too,” might suffice as well.  What happens next, remember: no judgment.  That’s crucial and can be a huge stumbling block  that can lead back to being closed.

My mantra at times like that is typically, “No one is judging me but myself.”  Judgment is me trying to close myself back up, and I have to stay open if I want to grow.  I also have to stay patient.  It took a while to push some of that stuff down, it’s going to take a while to let it bubble back out.  Those bubbles usually take the form of more tears, but that’s why I keep kleenex around when I’m doing deep spiritual or meditative work.  I know I’ll be releasing a lot of stuff up from the muck, of which I’ll just have to be accepting, non-judgmental, and open to.

*the rest of this presumes you already have a steady meditation practice

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