Tag Archive: 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.

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.

Clueless, Part Two


A while back I wrote an entry called Clueless about my inability to tell when people like me and want to be my friend. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of friends, it’s just that in some part of my mind I assume they’re there merely out of habit rather than desire. Which the rest of me knows is just fucked up and somewhat insulting to the people who do call me their friend.

It came up again the other day when someone very stressed out by finals said that they missed spending time with me and my daughter, and I remember feeling somewhat surprised that someone actually missed me, other than my daughter and husband. I mean, if people are my friends, then of course they would miss me when I’m not around or if they haven’t been able to see me for a while. It would be stupid (and again, insulting) to assume otherwise.

I don’t know why I do this, really. Enough time has passed between now and when I was incredibly insecure in my early 20s that I think I shouldn’t feel this way any more. I have achieved what I had sought for so long: to have a stable and long-lived community of friends, something my parents were never able to maintain. They couldn’t help but to offend people eventually, and the people they didn’t offend were just as fucked up as they were.

I need to work on appreciating my own worth. I’ve solved many other of my baggage issues, which is a fucking miracle considering how much of it I was hauling around. Seriously, if mental baggage had to be carried in something physical, I would have occupied an entire FedEx 747. I’m down to a small two-engine plane these days: just a few bags. One of the last ones, though, is the one marked “Poor Self Esteem”, destination code SOL. That’s a tough one. I have a mantra that I tell myself when I think I suck:

“I cannot suck.
I am surrounded by intelligent people who would
not spend time with someone who sucks.
Therefore, I cannot suck.”

It’s my personal Dune fear mantra (which is another fabulous one: I need to memorize it). I’ve told it to myself enough times that I think I suck much less than I used to, but it still needs tattooing on the inside of my eyelids, along with a Zen koan I recently read:

Let go or be dragged.

Amen. Perhaps I should see the baggage as being what’s in motion, rather than myself, and it’s dragging me along. Or flying the plane. That seems dangerous if I want to be mentally healthy. I wouldn’t let someone who’s delusional drive me around in a car: I shouldn’t let tenacious negative delusions drive my life.

Speaking of delusions, news on the headmeat front is fairly positive lately. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that the lithium went away last year (thank the gods) along with a couple of other meds that were causing skin and breathing problems (I like air, I’d like to have as much of it as possible, thank you very much). They were replaced by Lamictal and Ritalin, of all things. I used to think that disorders that “required” things like Ritalin were a bunch of trumped up hooey made up by teachers who just wanted a quiet classroom. I know differently now. Ritalin lets me focus and think. Without it, my mind meanders here and there, like that dog in “Up”.

“Squirrel!”

Recently I’ve added another: Saphris. Which unfortunately is incredibly expensive. Like $13 a pill (FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!!!), but unlike the other drugs in its class, it doesn’t cause severe sedation or weight gain (which is a misnomer: these drugs don’t cause weight gain, they cause uncontrollable munchies). Fortunately, it’s pretty new so the headmeat folks are still drowning in samples.  If I can float on samples for another year, I’ll be able to actually afford it since we’ll be done paying off an old debt. And I’ll probably keep taking it, because it’s outstanding at shutting off the constant mental chatter and musical jukebox going on in my brain (you only think you know what an earworm is like). A good friend calls it the Mental Dinner Party. Sometimes the guests are all happy and enjoying their meal and conversation. Other times they’re really angry and are throwing dishes and wine glasses at each other. Or knives, if it’s a really bad day (those are just analogies: I do not throw things at people). Saphris makes everyone get along.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry. But it’s a normal-in-the-way-others-get-angry sort of thing. It’s hard to describe how to tell the difference between good angry and bad angry. It’s a mental quality that’s impossible to tell someone about unless they’ve experienced it. It’s the difference between being in control, and being out of control. And the latter is very frightening, let me tell you. I’ll take anything that puts a lid on that happy horseshit.

On that note, I’m going back to working on my spiritual journal. It’s the most fun I’ve had creatively in a very long time.


Something that almost no one knows about me is that I like to sing, and that I have a really good singing voice.  I used to sing with a choir, but that kind of singing didn’t really touch me deep down, though I thought the songs were lovely and I enjoyed singing them.  Also, my voice was not drowned out by the others, but was part of a greater whole in which my own voice could not be individually sussed out.  I liked it that way.

I’m so self-conscious that I’m even afraid of expressing myself when I’m BY myself.  I sing in my truck when I’m driving all the time, but the music is usually loud enough that I either can’t hear myself very well, or my voice is part of the music, like when I was in the choir.  My voice reduces in volume automatically when the music’s volume goes down.  I’m afraid to hear myself for some reason.  It’s the same reason I can’t dance.  There’s something about that kind of free and open expression that makes me very afraid.  I think it’s because those kinds of expression must be full-on.  You can’t be fettered by self-consciousness or doubt or anything else negative in order to do those things to their fullest extent.  And for whatever reason, I am severely hampered by shyness and fear when it comes to things like dancing and singing.  I can do them to a certain extent when I’m inebriated, which makes me understand why so many performers are substance abusers.  It’s the only way they can get up there and do their thing.

I really want to be the kind of person who can dance and sing and not worry about what others think, including myself.  I wish I knew why I scrutinize myself so intensely to the extent that I can’t sing and dance just with myself.  That seems stupid to me, but the part of me that is afraid to do those things doesn’t think it’s stupid.  It thinks I just don’t understand, and I don’t.  Maybe that’s some other suppressed aspect of my childhood trying to free itself from time’s chains.

I also think it’s because I’m afraid of the attention that I know I will get if I express myself that way.  I know I can be amazing, and it fills me with fear to imagine having people watch me or hear me in that way, no matter how much they’re enjoying it.  That part of me wants to be free, but I don’t know how to let it go.

Singing and dancing aren’t the only things that I can’t or don’t do because of my own severe self-consciousness.  I know how to play some instruments very well (or at least I used to), but I was never able to fully develop my playing skill because I was afraid of other people hearing me, and after time that seeped into my own mind, making it difficult to even hear myself.  Maybe that fear of dancing, playing, and singing is just a manifestation of the same scrutiny I put my art through.  So much so that even now I look at pieces of my art that make others gasp, and all I see are mistakes.  I can’t see the beauty through my own perfectionism.

Also, when I think about what it might feel like to dance and sing, I want to cry.  Like there’s something inside that will be unleashed by doing those things, and I’m afraid of what it might be or for others to see it.  Maybe that’s that last ball of sadness that still lives deep inside me.  I used to think of my sadness as a bottomless well from which bad feelings were constantly upwelling.  I feared they would never stop and I would have to wallow in my past for my entire life.  Well, in recent times, I’ve begun to see the bottom of the well, or at least know that it’s there.  Writing down my life story had a great deal to do with that.  Seeing it all laid out and dragged from the proverbial closet put a lot of things in perspective.  So did drawing out the path of my life as it related to spirituality, my first task from Spiritual Nomad.

But there’s still this knot of sadness whose nature I can’t quite put my finger on.  I suspect it’s not based in anything but habit.  It’s the manifestation of the soldiers I stationed around my soul in order to protect it from bad people and bad things.  They’re very good at their job and have done it for so long that they can’t see anything but their original orders, like that Japanese soldier they found hiding on a Pacific island who would not deviate from his orders until the Prime Minister of Japan ordered him to stand down.  They also praised him for his tenacity and patriotism.  I’m trying to do the same thing with the guards in my mind.  Their job is done now.  Danger has passed.  But they don’t know what to do with themselves now, and so that ball of sadness sits there, very well guarded by now misguided mental soldiers.  Until it’s gone, I will feel choked.

I wish I knew how to tell them to stand down.  I wish I knew what to tell them to make them feel that their job is over but that they are appreciated.  That their protection has become a hindrance in the absence of ‘war’.

That they are keeping part of me caged.

Reflection


I spent some time today reading over the previous year’s worth of blog entries over at Tempest. I’m struck by how much better I feel compared to the way I was feeling when I wrote a lot of those entries. There was still a lot of up and down, and I wasn’t really on the right meds, so things weren’t improving as quickly as they might have.

It was interesting to see the range of emotions I went through over the last 16 months or so. At first I was desperate to stop whatever was wrong with my addled brain. Then I was relieved to finally have some kind of treatment. My next task was to bury myself in as much information about bipolar disease as possible. After a few weeks of that, I’d had enough and returned all of the books to the library. Quickly. By then I was resentful about having to deal with it at all, which wasn’t helped by not getting better as quickly as I had hoped. Then again, I was reminded of the many people on a bipolar forum I visit sometimes who had spent literally years finding the right med combo and then restabilizing. I’m not surprised it took so long for my own boat to level out and not be going up and down such large waves. You get a broken boat and probably sunk that way.

Then summer came. Gah. God I hope that never happens again. It’s one thing to deal with a drought, and it’s one thing to deal with a heat wave. To deal with them both at the same time is just pure and sheer misery. Just leaving the house is like a slap in the face with a hot blow dryer. Then everything started catching on fire, giving my lungs no end of grief. Having been through that, I was struck by a post almost exactly a year ago talking about how I was surveying my lovely, green garden, something that I’m doing again right now. It was an eerie moment of deja vu.

Later in the year, I finally got off the lithium along with a couple of other things, so I didn’t feel so “chemical”. My new meds are much better: Lamictal, aka lamotrigine, along with Neurontin, aka gabapentin. For some strange reason, anticonvulsant medications do wonders for bipolar illness. Go figure. I hope that I get to do what I want in the afterlife, which is just wander the Universe, coming back to Earth every now and then to see how humanity is progressing. It would be wonderful to see a time in the future when science has learned most of what there is to know about the human body, enabling them to be much more precise in how mental illness gets treated. Just as we see the treatment of mental illness a hundred years ago as barbaric, I imagine a similar attitude will be thought about this century’s method of treating mental illness. All we can do now is throw one drug after another at something, try to give a patient as much therapy as possible, and try to get someone to adhere to lifestyle changes that will also benefit their mental, and physical, health.

That last bit is the hardest, really. I have 40 years of habits under my belt that need undoing, and it’s going to be really difficult. A lot of these habits are comforting mechanisms I developed over time to deal with my stressful environments or general life misery. And I still find them comforting. I have much less need to escape from something dangerous or stressful, but it’s like wearing your favorite ratty, but comfortable, clothing around the house. Maybe you don’t need it for its purpose anymore, but damn they’re cozy. Woe betide the person who throws them away or takes them to Goodwill.

Well, like every other habit I’ve ever needed to change, I need to put a solid plan into place. It took me two months to lay out my quit smoking plan. It should take me at least that long to plan out the various life changes I still need to make in order to say I’m doing everything I can to mitigate my condition. Drugs only do so much. The rest has to come from things that I do myself. So far I haven’t been very good at that job. But last year was really hard for me and I spent most of my time and energy keeping my head above emotional water. Now the waves aren’t so high and the water isn’t as turbulent, so I don’t have to work so hard. In fact, it’s kind of pleasant here. Pleasant enough to feel like I can really get back to the task of living life as it’s meant to be lived. With ease.


I’ve been increasingly sad lately that Zoe’s getting so big. She’s shedding another ‘skin’, so to speak, by outgrowing another layer of toys and interests. Every time I see her/us getting rid of something else that she’s had since she was very small or a little-little girl, I get really depressed. Other small things will set me off: seeing someone carrying a toddler, or unsubscribing from an e-list that’s no longer relevant. It’s been quite some time since I could carry her (though if I had to, I still could, but not for very long), and when I didn’t have to anymore, I was grateful because she was getting so heavy. But I find myself wishing she was small again. She’s too heavy to sit in my lap comfortably anymore. We can cuddle next to one another still, but it’s not the same.

I think it bothers me more than it might other parents because I was so depressed for the first three years of her life. I wasn’t really completely there because of the postpartum depression that just seemed to go on and on and on. Sometimes I’m surprised I made it through those first few years at all and still think I wasn’t a very good mother. I feel like I missed so much. There must have been good and happy times, but mostly what I remember is being unhappy and stressed out.

And now she’s nearly 9, halfway to being an adult, and I often desperately wish I could roll everything back several years and do it again without being so sad and angry and sleep-deprived. Almost nothing happened the way I thought it would or wanted it to.

I get sad like this every year around her birthday. The actual act of having her was so traumatizing, and my doctor so cruel and insensitive, that it still sticks with me even after all this time. All I can do is wonder how much better things would have been if we had all gotten a better start. I feel like something very dear was stolen from me, from all three of us. I guess I’ll get over it someday, but it doesn’t look like “someday” is this year.

Yeah. Not little anymore.


The spectre of anger has hung over my family for at least five generations.  Reading our genealogical history is like walking through a museum of dysfunction.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, etc.  So much abuse that the word ‘abuse’ becomes non-sensical when I say or think it.  I think often about the nature of anger and how and why it manifests.

Whilst perusing Facebook today, I ran across a link to this short video by Mingyur Rinpoche entitled “What Meditation Really Is”, which you can watch here.

In five minutes, he was able to slice through all of the conflicting notions I have had regarding meditation, notions that have kept me from establishing a meditation practice.  YouTube is always helpful in guiding its viewers to similar videos, so I clicked on the one entitled “Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness”, yet another Buddhist concept that I struggle mightily with.  Again, in five minutes, he was able to clarify how anger relates to the rest of our emotions in an amazingly clear way.  Trying to fight with anger using compassion is futile, because the compassion comes through the anger.  Dig beneath the surface of anger deeply enough, and you will find compassion.  Anger is often the result of stymied compassion.  Seeing how anger and compassion are interrelated helped me see the true nature of my own anger and where it comes from.

In the midst of that clarity, I remembered something that my grandmother said to me during one of my all-too-few visits to her before she died.  I was asking her about her family and about some of the things my mother had told me regarding their own abusive relationship.  And she said, “I don’t think I was  so much angry as I was afraid.”  Like a bell ringing in a temple to awaken and clear the mind, all of the aspects of dysfunction in my family and the generations before us became so much clearer.  Today, as I still struggle with anger, I strive to remember what Gram said.  Anger I have trouble with, but fear I can handle.  Fear is greatly quelled by logic and rationality, two things I pride myself of having a good grasp upon.  Whenever I am angry, I try to ask myself if I’m angry, or if I’m afraid.  Nine times out of ten, I’m afraid of something, usually the future and the unknown.  Once I identify my fear, I can find reasons for it to back off.

I feel I am much closer to achieving my goal of establishing a good meditation practice now that these things have been clarified for me.  I feel like I have been looking through a dirty window that has just been cleaned, and now the light can get in and I can see things for what they really are.  Now I won’t have to waste my meditation time worrying that I’m not doing it right, an attitude that has killed nearly every attempt at meditation I have made.  Now I don’t need to fear or fight with my anger.  What I seek is inside my anger and fear, and if I make friends with them and direct their energies more positively, I will find my compassion and my loving-kindness.  My metta.  In that way I feel I will be much more successful in my goal of sharing my bodhicitta, my awakened mind, with others.  I have always felt that I have something very important to do while I walk this Earth.  Perhaps I am a little bit closer to figuring out what that might be.

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