Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Grief To Go With Loss and Rising UP

There are many types  of grief to go with many types of loss, and it comes down to learning how to rise up through it.  Grief is part and parcel to loss.  When we lose a dream there is grief.  When we lose a love, there is grief.  Then there is that horrific grief of losing a person that leaves a gaping hole in the world as we have always known it.  My sister says we cannot reconcile to death because we were never created to die.  If you are a believer, that may resonate with you.  It certainly makes sense as to why we cannot comprehend, with any true comprehension and acceptance, the death of someone we love.

And then there is the loss of self.

It is ironic to me that the death of my best friend has turned the spotlight on me.  And though, I ache with the idea of a world for the rest of my life without him in it, his death has forced me to look at myself and how sloppy I have become with my living.

It has only been a couple of weeks since his passing, but in that time it is as if things have gone from from a “hazy shade of gray” to sharp relief.  I am seeing how much I have let slide in my life.  With his death, everything peripheral that has been taking center stage fell away, and I am seeing for the first time, in a very long time, what is truly important for me.

It is so easy to get tangled up in what others think, in pleasing others.  And doing that enforce can erode mission, focus, and passion.  I feel like I have been asleep, and this tragedy has been a mighty slap, forcing me to attend to what is going on in my life without my participation.

I committed to some uncomfortable changes in my life, because they NEED to happen for me to have longevity. My hyper focus on being so concerned about people judging me for how my illness impacts my life, is chucked out the window, because I am just who I am.  Nothing more.  I am not perfect.  I’m very ill, and yet by the Grace of Almighty God, SOMETIMES I function like a rock star.  I should be good with that.  I have been good with that in the past, but something went pear-shaped, and I ended up caring more about what others might think about me than what I know about myself.

That compromise made me lose my understanding of who I am, which directly tied to creativity.  I now comprehend, for the last few years, that was what my friend was trying to get me to see.  When he railed against my job choices, it was because he knew me well enough to know I was going to lose my imagination and my ability to express things differently than most, which I did.  I was unable to finish what I felt I had started professionally, and with that came this invasive sense of failure that has been tenaciously biting at my heels.

I gave away my greatest strength for something that did not matter in the long game.

I was a fool.

I will likely be a fool again, but this I know, the fact that my best friend is not here to get old with the rest of us who loved him, has taught me just how very fleeting life is and how there is no big timer out in the netherworld on pause.  It is ticking NOW.  Putting off the difficult stuff will only hinder the experience NOW and will shorten the time we have with those we want to be with.

So

I’m taking care of my body.  My brain is this beautiful wild thing that has been chained in a basement where the rest of the house if falling down around it, and it cannot do what it is gifted to do in such a state.  I’m loving my husband like no woman has ever loved a man.  He is my treasure, my champion, the one who sees my beautiful when I’m the ugliest.  I’m taking care of my parents, honoring them, because they gave me all the tools I needed to survive, and they are people I would be honored to be like.  I’m cherishing my strong-willed, extraordinary siblings because they are the keepers of our heritage.  I’m embracing my friendships and not taking them for granted.

What I am no longer doing is settling for less, allowing distractions of what people think about my decisions for my life to eat me up and steal my peace.  I have a small circle of people I am accountable to, and they are a perfect balance.  I am drawing close to my Savior, because I know He is the only one who can get me through the great pain of this death.  I know he sustains my hope when I can’t see the point of living through the hurt.  He is my joy in the morning and my solace at night.  There is nothing in my life worth being, without him. He is the one who takes my mistakes and blunders, buries them in the ground and grows beautiful flowers from them.

I know there will be days I don’t feel as committed as I do at the moment as I write this.  I have enough background as a psychologist to know that chemicals will fluctuate, life will shift, and I will have moments of absolute doubt as well as moments of even more crystal clear insight than this moment.  That is not only the nature of the bipolar mind but the nature of the human.  I know that grief is an ebb and flow.

Last night I was thinking of a medical question I had and, as ever, I thought, “I will ask in our next conversation.”  There was a cosmic pause and the a rendering of reality when I was face to face with the comprehension, yet again, that there will be no more phone conversations with him.  No more insights.  No more laughter.  No more concern.  No more love. No more.  No more.  No more.

The grief was a punch in the gut, and I found myself right back at the beginning, reckoning once again with the shock and grief of having lost my dear friend.  I know this will go on for a while.  I know that I will sob and hurt and rail against this tragedy for some time.  I will always lament the lack of him in all my big moments going forward.  I will miss growing old with him in the picture.  I am going to long for the way he understood my mind and the hours of simple intellectual conversation we had that would bore others but stimulated our minds.

I will miss his laugh, his witty dry sense of humor, his fragility, his genius, his talent, his kind heart, his insight.  But I will not miss his pain.  I will not miss his wounds that never healed and caused him to suffer so. I will not miss the illness that took him and it’s impact on him over time.

I’m going to try to honor his life and use his death as a means of improving my own experience.  That sounds selfish-focused, but he would really dig that.  He would think it healthy and holistic.  I just have to find a way to move through the grief that goes with this loss, and to rise up under it.

 

 

 

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Walk Through

This is  just an update on my past year plus a few and the events I have been walking through. At the beginning of 2017, I resigned from my position as Human Resources Coordinator at a prison.  A month later, I was enrolled in a local beauty school to update my hours for licensure as a cosmetologist. I then took state boards and became recertified in cosmetology.  Oh, and I had pneumonia while I was doing it.

Then I rented a booth in a salon and discovered it was a really poor fit for me.  I struggled to get traffic into the location and had real issues with the owner.  In the midst of trying to figure out what to do about my work situation, a cherished family member committed suicide, and my family just sort of spiraled out of control with the grief.

In October, I had had enough in my current work location and changed salons.  I also had pneumonia, AGAIN.

In December I decided to get my Instructor’s license for cosmetology and crammed 500 hours of study into three weeks.  I took boards for that in January and became licensed.  I also started adjunct classes at the local community college and continued to serve my clientele at the salon with abbreviated hours.

However, between the two jobs, I was working six days a week, which left one day of total down time every week.

In April, our current housing situation became unbearable with the new neighbors moving in behind us and we decided to buy a house, which was a whole new level of stress and upheaval.

Just as we were getting moved in and settled, I learned my best friend of nearly 30 years had passed away…

And there is the bipolar thing.

And the agoraphobia thing.

This has been one of the most volatile years of my life in terms of mental illness.  Along with trying to just keep my head above water with all the changes and devastation, I have been fighting to not succumb completely to the heavy dark waters of depression that wash into my life and continue to rise about eight months out of the year.  Suicide doesn’t always come as a dramatic event.  Sometimes its sneaks in disguised as a solution, and if you have an unhealthy mind, which I do, having lived with bipolar disorder most of my life, rationale doesn’t often play a role.  However, paranoia certainly steps up to the plate to provide interesting perspectives one would never embrace if rationale were on the scene.

I am still reeling from the death of my friend with only days having gone by in the wake. I am faced, once again with a change in my schedule for the summer, and I am desperately craving creativity the way one craves water in a desert.

I’m exhausted, weepy, fractious, my temper is hair trigger, and I am waiting for the other shoe to drop with the bipolar component of my life, because the aftereffects of grief  for someone with mental illness, extend exponentially.  There is no shut off switch.  There are not barriers, walls, for containment.  There are no roadblocks or tethers to slow things down.

All the upheaval with change and death that have permeated my sight line, created a new animal in the mental illness I have always known, and I’m not sure what it’s going to look like over time. There is nothing people in my life can do; nothing I can do.  There is no way to know how things will roll out over the next few months.

But I do know one thing.  I know that God knows me, and he is more than able to handle whichever direction I spin out of control.  He also sees my grief and the terrible wounds that such losses have left in my heart.

He knows I am brokenhearted.

He knows I can’t seem to attend the every day functions of life that seem inconsequential.  That I really don’t care, and when I don’t care I tend to eliminate things from my life.

And in spite of all this upheaval and loss, he still has a plan for my life, whether I handle any or all of it with grace.

He still holds me in the palm of his hand.

He cares for me.

He loves me.

And he will walk me through all of this.

 

My Intro To Bipolar Disorder And Accountability For It

I was 22 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the time it was still termed manic-depressive illness, and I confess, I have always preferred that title. If I’m going to have a mental illness, I would prefer something specific rather than the indistinct-ness that comes with a illness called “bipolar.”

For me, having a name assigned to what ailed me was a relief. I discovered the stigma attached to being labeled with mental illness a bit later, but truthfully, I had experienced discrimination all of my life for the simple fact that I was different. My way of thinking was different from most people, and I had sensory issues, which caused me to malfunction in most environments with a lot of noise, light, and commotion.

I believe that I began malfunctioning at 5 when I attempted to integrate into the noise of a traditional classroom, but my illness did not manifest completely until I was in my early twenties. It has been “game on” ever since, and along the way I picked up a very severe co-morbidity anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, which further cemented my inability to live life the way most people function.

I spent 10 years trying to find stability, and through those years I learned so much about myself and my illness, not to mention the psychology of human nature in general. I became an authority on my illnesses. I call them MY illnesses, because they are part of my life. They are not going to leave, and so I own them. They are squatters on the landscape of my life, but they are not going to leave, so it is up to me to keep them corralled and to try to find a way to live the best life I can.

I decided about 10 years into my illness, when I finally found some stability and sanity to go along with it, that I needed to not only be informally educated, but formally educated as well. I was an authority in my field but I needed the credentials, per societal dictates, to show that I was, in fact, an authority. I spent a decade and achieved education to the doctoral level in psychology. My doctoral work exists in leadership psychology, which has helped me expand my understanding to the workplace and the structures that exist in our culture on a societal level.

When I was first diagnosed, mental illness was taboo. There has been a pendulum swing in our society that has made being mentally ill more acceptable, which is good, but has it really made being mentally ill in our society easier? I’m not so sure. We have a lot of people diagnosed with major mental illness very quickly, and that is not necessarily a help to them. EVERYONE is not bipolar. I’m sorry, but there it is. The truth is that a very small percentage of people are bipolar, and an even smaller percentage are agoraphobic. I use these two illnesses, as they are what I deal with, and so my vantage point is a little clearer on these than on others.

I have to be honest, I get annoyed when I have an individual come up to me and tell me, “Yeah. I’m bipolar.” I say, “How do you know?” They say, “Well I went to my GP, and he said that I was probably bipolar because I’m moody.” I say, “Are you receiving treatment for your illness?” They look at me like I have two heads. “Uh, no. This was a long time ago. I just make it work.”

At this point, my irritation is threatening to breach. GP’s are not qualified to assess mental illness, people. Would you go to a podiatrist for a heart condition? Come on! If you have a true mental health issue, go to a psychiatrist or at the very least, a therapist. Psychologists can’t prescribe, but they can refer to someone who can.

Then there is the pattern I tend to see in people I have this conversation with, and that is they tend to have substance abuse issues and are justifying erratic behaviors by saying they are bipolar. Meth and alcohol are very indicative of mood instability. Now, that does not mean there isn’t a mood disorder that kicked everything off, but what I get is this inference of, “I have bipolar, and I do just fine on my own without medication or treatment. It’s not that big of a deal.”

So, on a personal level, pulling from my own experience with mental illness and my professional knowledge of this disease, which is expansive, I will respond by supplying the following: You do not have major mental illness if you are “managing just fine on your own.” Sorry, but there it is. You may have times of remission where you do not experience symptoms, but it comes back, and if you have not been medicated, the impact of an episode on the life someone with bipolar is equivalent to a “Defender of God” level tornado on a small town.

I have gotten to the point where I have had the above scenario occur so many times that I have started saying, “Then you don’t have bipolar. Sorry. You cannot manage true bipolar on your own. Not. Gonna. Happen. For one thing, the illness grows as you age. Trust me. Nearly 30 years with mental illness, and a couple days without meds, I’m in a depressive bell jar so deep, nothing but death can find me. That is the reality of major mental illness. It is very frustrating that people use the diagnosis of mental illness as a means to excuse behavior; behavior that is wreaking havoc on those who love them. The diagnosis is not a free pass. It’s a starting point to control.

For the past 20 years, I have worked in a crisis intervention status with families who have a loved one going off the rails with bipolar disorder. The very first thing I teach the family is boundaries. If you have bipolar you have to own it, take responsibility, and make the effort to get it under control in ways that perpetuate stability and health. That is YOUR responsibility; not your family’s responsibility; not society’s responsibility. Take accountability for your illness!

Yeah, it’s not fair, but there are a lot of things in life that are unfair, and I know what it is like to spend youth grappling with the knowledge that the dreams and possibilities for life may in all likelihood be at an end because of an illness that has taken over. But many people have to come to that reckoning with all different kinds of illness. Mine just happens to be mental and more difficult to treat than most illnesses. So be it.

I can say that I am glad I took the route I took, rather than that of denial, substance abuse, and escapism. I embraced the truth of mental illness and found a very rich existence in a different life. I found a belief in God I never would have pursued had I not had to address mental illness in my life. My journey with bipolar disorder has defined me and honed me in a way I could never have expected, and I have chosen to spend my life looking forward to what is on the horizon, for I know that even though the routine things in life throw me for a loop, the expanded and deeper meaning of life is not lost on me, and I am all the better for it.

Viewing Christmas Through Grief

Every Christmas part of my viewing list is the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” I love the music and imagery presented of a family united in their living, even when they don’t agree. I am inspired every time I watch this movie, along with many others on my Christmas viewing list, to gather my family to me and hold them close. This Christmas season, however, is one of the most difficult I can remember in my 46 years on this earth, and gathering my family to me will not happen this year. I feel I am caught in the bonds of remembrance, whose embrace is bittersweet, and my heart hurts with the reckoning of the way things are in relation to what I would like them to be.

This year we lost my 19 year old niece to suicide, and the impact of it will ripple through our familial structure forever; the devastation firmly seated with my sister and her family. There are no words; just no words to define what has happened here. I can’t even explain what this has done to our outside structure. If there were narrow roads of communication between us due to the erosion of time and life choices, the destruction wrought by this act has obliterated many of those narrow roadways between all of us, and all that remains are cavernous holes.

You see, when a tragedy happens, there is either enough integrity in the structure that it endures, or it simply blows apart, because there was not enough steel there to hold it together. Pardon my mixing of imagery, but this seems to need multiple visual constructs. For some of our structure there simply was not enough steel to hold things together. Love remains. We love one another, but love is not always enough contrary to pop culture.

I cannot speak for the other members of my family. I have an idea of where they are in the process, but when you have a family of introverts, with only a couple of extroverts seaming everything together, it is difficult to get everyone communicating, and introverts rather often feel misunderstood, because we tend to withhold who we are and tend not to express what really, deeply moves us.

So, for me, I find this Christmas season to be somewhat in opposition with the sorrow and hurt in my heart for my sister and her family, for my parents who lost a grandchild, and the rest of my siblings and me who lost someone we cared about and who feel impotent in the aftermath. I want to celebrate and wrap up in the ribbons of joy produced only during this magnificent season, but they are singed by the fires of grief that threaten to burn down every beautiful moment possible. And even though I need desperately to experience some beauty, it seems fitting and right somehow that more is lost in the blaze than the broken hearts that struggle through it.

I find myself at sixes and sevens as I pursue Christmas traditions. I see the family on the movie I referenced above, celebrating, and I want to make cookies and pies with my siblings like we used to; chatting animatedly and laughing together. But then I am pierced as I think of my little sister struggling to move through every day and find the meaning therein, most significantly through this Christmas season. I am held hostage as the two vibrant heart moments collide, and I just want to go back to bed.

My people tend to turn into themselves the more deeply we feel. I confess to be one of the worst offenders in this category, but I am trying to communicate with my husband and share with him the mixed up menagerie of exhaustive and conflicting emotions and thoughts impacting me during this season.

I have little rhyme or reason for expressing my own grief. I can say that I grieve more for my sister than for my niece, whom I believe is in heaven no longer suffering. It is possible to experience loss so deeply for someone else that you cannot function well through it. It is possible to hurt so bad for them that you are wounded from that alone. I had no idea.

But, I am learning. I am understanding that even now there are so many more ways the heart can be rendered incompetent in daily functioning. It is part of living. Having a heartbeat means it can be wounded, and that it can heal. That is the thing to look at.

So as I sit staring at my beautiful Christmas tree, I am reminded that the beautiful in my life does not come from the trappings that make it glow. What makes my life beautiful is what I experience and the fact that I am able to care enough to be grieved; the fact that even though we can’t go back to those carefree times of laughing through the messes made in the kitchen, we can endure and love another through the messes of life. Even if we don’t understand one another. Even if we can’t find the light in the dark. If love is there, “hope remains while the company is true” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).

God does not give up on his children. He does not do bad things to us. Stuff happens. I do not pretend to have the answers to the difficult questions. I quit asking a long time ago. What I know is that he has come through for me more times that I have suffered. I call him Yeshua (the Rescuer), because even though he has not removed mental illness from my life; even though I struggle every day, not with the normal issues in life, thought they press in, I have to grapple with finding reasons every day not to end my life. So, I know the price of suffering. I know who my people are, and regardless of what I do not understand, of what I have lost, of what my precious sister has lost, I know what I have gained and who rescues me every day.

So, this Christmas, as I straddle the fire flow burning a black chasm through my memories and traditions of Christmas, I am reminded of what remains through it all: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Point of Intolerance About the Black Stage

I’ve reached a point of intolerance with skirting issues that pertain to mental health, my black stage. I suspect this is due in large part to my own parachute into the dark depths that is eminent for this time of year in my journey. But the vehemence of my frustration is due in large part to society’s inability to take responsibility for its role in perpetuating mental illness, as well as it’s lack of effective treatment for those actively searching for ways to cope.

I’m done excusing anyone and everyone on the topic of mental illness and the ignorance that has somehow become the antithesis for pro activity and efficacious propositions. I must say, above all, if you will not reckon with the mental illness in your life you have no chance of surviving it. No chance. I’m sorry. There it is. I am a 30 year survivor of mental illness. I am an authority on bipolar disorder both personally and professionally, and I’m telling any and all with this illness…there is no way to have any quality of life unless you reckon with the fact that you have it.

Man, we don’t need one more event, one more celebrity, one more death to bring attention to something of which we are all aware. We need honest dialogue. We need to step out of fear and into the reality that life is messy and wildly beautiful, but for some of us, there is literally a struggle every day to find a reason to keep living it. Prevention of suicide starts with honesty and dialogue, and it’s often beyond the family. It takes ownership and the reinforcement that life matters! All the stats and 5k walks in the world will never come close to the impact of honest confession and dialogue.

I know, because this is my life. I live a kind of half life, teetering between hope of life abundant and absolute need to no longer experience the pain involved with drawing breath. Real enough for ya? This is the life of mental illness. Welcome to those just joining the battle, but for those of us who have been a lifetime of trying to fight a monster with sharpened toothpicks…

You are late, and did you bring any weapons to the battle?

Because the truth is, I struggle constantly. I am on a tight rope balancing every single thing in my life on top of my head as I attempt to navigate a life that once was a nice wide road but has been relegated to a thin wire I must traverse. My immediate experience is a slippery slide where I am groping, grasping for something to hang on to that will retard my descent. It is as though my footing gave way while I was sleeping, and I have only just now awakened to find myself in full movement. I am scrambling madly to gain anything that will help me recall myself back to center; back to balance.

Everywhere I look I see dusk settling, and I can find very little about myself or my life that seems worth hanging on for. I have been experiencing this place I am currently in for nearly 30 years now, and yet every season it is as if I am going over the edge for the first time. All stop gaps are…well…stopped.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I have lost heart, and so I am at a loss. I find I cannot care enough about things to expend the energy to make them so; to fix or eliminate. I am scrambling desperately for meaning so that it will kick start the desire to desire again.

The danger with this place is that there is an extensive need to fill the void with something, anything. I find myself struggling to erase or, at best, scratch out my ongoing irascibility. It is as though everything, every origin of feeling and thought has become a tangled mass, and I can never seem to find the ends to begin untangling.

As such, though I have been working to keep up healthy habits, I am now majorly struggling with unhealthy ones I have conquered before of have managed to at least keep on a leash in the back yard. Now, however, it’s a full on assault, and really all I want to do is to eat.

There. I said it. I just want to eat, because it’s legal. Because I get a small chemical adjustment with sugar that helps assuage all the symptoms that accompany the mixed state that is so very problematic . When the healthy fails, I will reach for relief in that which is not so healthy.

So there is more added to the initial struggle. I find there is a mountain of dysfunction added to the the mountain I’m already carrying across that wire. THIS is life with mental illness. THIS is what it is like to live with suicidal ideation as a person with mental illness.

At present I’m on my knees; on my face, really, before God. There is nothing man has that will help me through the living nightmare that I never get away from. I pray for relief always. Sometimes I pray for death. Sometimes I pray for life. Sometimes I pray for peace. Sometimes it’s beauty, because everything is ugly to me. Sometimes it’s understanding. Mostly though I pray for comfort.

I’m so alone. This is the loneliest place on earth, living with mental illness, and I confess my anger at those who enter onto the scene so late due to a personal brush with it and now, suddenly, they are experts; know everything. The arrogance! There are no answers here. There is survival and a small flower of hope.

That is what I always leave with after my time on my face before Yeshua (My Rescuer). I always leave with hope. I know that being alone on the black stage of my life with only a spotlight is the best place for me, because He is the spotlight. If I have to live like this, I’m going to live it with him. If not with him…

I’m just on a black stage.

The Lost Heart

It’s been a while since I have been able to write, and even now as I am typing these words, I’m still uncertain whether I will be able to continue, because somehow, somewhere, I have lost heart. I have been unable to express anything. Expression comes from the heart, and there is only an empty place where hearts tend to live; a vacant sign in the window with a stack of unopened mail outside the door.

I have lost heart before; more than once. I know that there must be a planned rescue, and in that process, expression must exist no matter how stilted and fragmented the outcome.

Because I am not a novice, I know what I must do, but I confess I am struggling to function, to care about all the things and people that matter and make my world go round. It is really a perfect storm of events that has included upheaval in every area of life, culminating with the loss of a loved one. The storm in my life has been so very comprehensive that it has made the bipolar I deal with every day seem superfluous in its wake.

Still, I am not able to experience life through any other lens than that of bipolar, and in amidst of all the trauma, loss, and now ubiquitous grief, there are the mood transitions that occur without fail; spring into fall; fall into winter.

I have been telling myself for weeks that I must get something down, but I’m not very good at writing when I feel blocked emotionally. But the thing about finding heart again is that you must walk out the process of having one before you can regain it.

I am not intentionally cryptic here. It’s just that in order to come back to the internal fragile self that houses all the inspiration, expression of beauty, and creativity, one must first journey ahead as though already in possession of these things. Again, I know this, which is why I have been reticent in beginning. I have been very indulgent of my lack of heart, and that indulgence has begun to impact all areas of my life.

When one loses heart there can be many reasons. It can happen in a day or over months or even years. Once the process is begun there may be a rending if it happens quickly, but rather often it is torn away in pieces, and one does not realize.

The loss of heart occurs with lack of time for self and connection to that inner part that sets us uniquely apart from others. Loss of heart occurs with abuse from those we love. It can occur from disappointment in life and the feeling of being trapped in something we never wanted to begin with. Loss of heart can also occur with death of a loved one, of a relationship, of a dream, or extensive illness. Often, though, it is a combination of these things that truly rends the heart, and because we are so busy trying to survive the lives we find ourselves living, we don’t even know it is gone.

Signs of loss of heart are a lack of drive, the need to escape, unwillingness to commit to anything, despair, disillusionment, the inability to feel anything; anger and frustration with the things we must do on a daily basis; lack of stamina and the discovery that nothing seems to matter to us. There is also a fragility that comes with loss of heart where we feel paper thin and we find ourselves experiencing profound sadness at times when we should be joyful, and we don’t understand why.

Loss of heart is something that happens more often than one might think. It is part of being a warrior in a world that would twist beauty and authenticity into a brand for product or sell us an emotion as and ideal. If you love, you will likely lose heart in the fray of walking that love out. It is just part of the mess of living.

But what is truly sad is not realizing that one has lost heart. People go decades without realizing this, and their decisions are made without their hearts truly engaged. So, if you feel this condition may be what you are experiencing, I invite you to go with me into this journey I am on to find my heart, and along the way, we will find yours as well.

Trees and Grief

The leaves on the trees outside my window are beginning to turn. It is early yet; only August. Yet it is as if a memo was sent out with the news that the carefree days of summer are at an abrupt end. The foliage is fighting to remain green for the time and space allotted, but it is losing. Every day I see the results of changing temperatures on the landscape. It seems to have decided that the summer has been a tragedy, and there is simply no point in continuing. So it has terminated the summer, and we are in a quick rotation to fall and then winter.

This year I am on a quick track as well, my transition into the long dark night of depression coming early and hurtling me rather quickly into the hole from which I crawled just a few short months ago. I am not easing my way. Someone has suddenly shut off the lights and I am groping around for the familiar in a darkness that is fluid with grief and a sadness so profound I find it difficult to breath.

I should not be surprised. My family recently lost a beloved member, and we are still reeling from the impact. I am not closest to the core of the trauma. I am one rung removed, but I have lost someone I loved, nonetheless, and that alone is exceedingly impactful.

August is also the month my best friend from high school passed away. It has been a few years since she left this life, but I find I am always in a bit of a struggle to stay aloft when the anniversary of her passing goes by.

I can only speak for myself. I know others who suffer even more than I do in the wake of the tragedy that has touched so many of us. I, however, can only speak to my own experience, though I have not because I felt that in doing so, I was somehow taking away from grief greater than mind.

But I am a writer. This is what I do, as much for me as for others. This is how I make sense of the tremendous mountain of living I do internally that I struggle to share with anyone in the external, and so I must write this out, however awkward it may be due to disjointedness that comes as a result of shock and loss.

The grief that hangs about like a London fog, threatens to permeate everything and leave those in it unable to move or see anything. It is a gray nothingness that causes immediate surrender under its weight. But there is a way through it, and I am groping for it, hoping for it, even as I accept that its presence has thrown me into the depressive phase of my illness early, and I am now committed to it through conscription.

The path, many of us know. It is the 5 stages of grief, and I’m going to provide them here, as I need a reminder as much as anyone.

  1. Denial and Isolation- So often we cannot accept what has happened, and because the world continues to move around us at the same speed it always has, we need to stop and isolate just to try to wrap our head around what has happened. There is nothing wrong with isolation, but staying there is a really bad idea, and an indulgence a person who intends on living in the world at some point cannot afford for very long.
  2. Anger– This is the next stage and one that is also absolutely normal. There seems an unending supply of anger once a person allows it loose. There is anger for the diseased, for the fact that life has had the gall to continue, and so many other things and people. But be sure to look at anger and make aim it where it belongs. Do not tear apart your support system with anger that should be directed elsewhere.
  3. Bargaining– So this is a tough one. Bargaining is that thing where you start looking for some control of the situation; like you need to understand what happened, and you start trying to find areas that should have been better or have been done better. The “if/then” statements. My personal belief with this step is that it does not leave you with control, but it rather often leads you to guilt which keeps you from moving through the grief process.
  4. Depression– This is where the profound sadness takes over; a lack of wanting to continue on, the inability to cope with anything, and the absolute pain that fills the place where a person has been cut from our lives. There can also be the absence of any feeling at all; a plateau of gray. Depression can last for months or years, but to stay in this phase for a prolonged period of time is akin to being trapped in a swamp, slowly pulling you under. Seek help, whether medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
  5. Acceptance– I believe that this stage can come to anyone seeking it through the haze of loss, but it does not look the same for everyone. As such, I will not be so callous as to define it. If you reach acceptance, you will recognize it as a place where you can live with what has occurred. For some, there is new life in place of what has burned. For others it is an ability to survive in a barren place. But acceptance can only be recognized and defined on an individual basis.

We do not necessarily go through the stages in order. We may repeat stages, but it is not a good idea to skip any of the stages. This is not about the heart, though it is certainly involved. You cannot put a constriction on the heart. It heals in its own time, but you can get the mind set up to support the heart as it struggles to continue to beat.

Loss is linear. What I mean by that is that you cannot compare one person’s loss to another’s simply because no two people are alike. It is a negative investment of time and energy to look at the person next to you and say, “I hurt more than you,” or “My loss is greater.” This is a linear position with a vertical journey; meaning we start out in the same place, at loss. Our journey, whether we choose to stay right where we are and wither away, or we determine to move through it, becomes a vertical one that is between only us and what or who we believe in.

What do you believe in? Who do you believe in? For me, it is Yeshua, who rescues me even as I am screaming out my descent. For me, the dark fog of loss can only open up into a 60 foot drop to the floor of massive dark depression where I will remain until spring renewal pulls me up into mania.  I will either have sorrow still in tow or not. I experience bipolar depression every year, but I must confess that just as the trees are being forced from their green stage and into the colors of fall, grief has me changing early from relative normalcy, I am simply not ready for the fall.

What It “Looks” Like

I have tried, over the years, to use my writing as a means to tangibly define and describe what it “looks” like to have major mental illness.  I am told that I am sometimes adept at doing that, but rather more often, I fear, I fall short.  Sill here I sit, yet again, virtual pen in hand, making another attempt.

I have recently come back to asking myself why I write.  It is a committed task, and it causes me to have to expose parts of my inner world I would normally not share.  In fact, I would venture to posit that I tend to share more in my writing with those I have never encountered than I usually do with the most intimate relationships in my life.  It is just the way my personality type works.  I make myself accountable to my writing, which ensures I am most authentically myself when writing.

That does not mean I am inauthentic with those in my life; it’s just that we are working on the business of living, and there is not often time for the deep introspection that produces what I write.  So, today when I write about yet another component of my illness and how it manifests in my life, it will be as new to those I encounter on a very intimate level every day as it is to those I have never met.

This morning has been rough.  I have no current reason to be so very sad.  My being is bruised, and though my life has had some very devastating recent losses, this morning seems an odd occasion to be so very broken.

The bipolar mind is unique in that it tends to not have so many rooms to it.  Walls that exist to allow control and compartmentalization of meaning that is applied to what the senses encounter get demolished with the first psychotic break.  What that means for those who endure with the illness is when something happens, it is ushered into the mind and there it sits in that open chamber, reverberating and expanding.

A single emotion for a person who is not bipolar, say sadness procured while watching a death occur in a movie, will not necessarily dissipate for the bipolar mind as it most likely will for a person not so afflicted.  So, when I watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Yondu dies, I cry.  Then I go to bed and I wake in the morning with Yondu still dying and Quill suffering.  Then, I read in my morning reading, of an individual losing his pet, and I am undone; hysterical.

Never mind that I have so many great things going in my life.  Never mind that I  am loved, that MY pets are whole.  Never mind that this is a serious over exaggeration!  I am simply unable to step away from the sadness, and that is why I must be very careful what I am allowing into my mind.

It’s not that things are bad; it’s that they are not necessarily good for me at certain times.  I am vulnerable already from other sad things, but I am also vulnerable because I had a beautiful time with a friend at lunch yesterday, someone whom I love dearly and rarely see.  I am vulnerable because I have family here to visit and I’m overwhelmed with the pleasure of seeing them.  I am overwhelmed because I have a husband who is kind and good to me when I am neither.

These are all good things, right?  So what is my problem?

Well, my brain does not always recognized things as good or bad in terms of impact.  Things get ushered into the main theater of my mind, and it does not matter whether they are positive or negative.  What matters is that they have a tremendous emotional impact, and once introduced, they reverberate continually, filling up my mental space until I’m completely overwhelmed.

I have a little dog named Dexter.  People in my life make fun of me because I baby him, and I treat him like a child, but I have reasons.  Dexter knows my emotional status before I do.  He is every bit as vital to my ability to function on a daily basis as is the lithium I take every day.  I do not know how I survive the very devastating sadness visited on my life regularly, especially when I begin the descent out of mania into depression, without him.

Dexter comes to me, climbs up in my lap, and he comforts me.  He doesn’t care if I’m neurotic.  He doesn’t care that I’m nasty and prickly.  He is not concerned about conversations and actions I should have done differently with people.  He could care less whether I’m completely in control or under-performing.  He only cares that I’m upset.  He loves me with his entire little being.  He has the ability to recognize when I’m about to go down and will attempt to comfort me even before I malfunction.

So, if I am too protective of that little dog; if I tend be a bit paranoid with him and how he is treated, it’s because I am fully aware how many times he has pulled me away from that chaos in the open room of my mind; back to a little corner where he just comforts me by sitting in my lap, resting his head on my chest as he looks into my eyes.

I know how much he needs me, and in past years, he has been my reason for not following through on an action that would have been a permanent fix for a temporary state of mind.  Sounds silly, but it is what it is.  I do not try to apply rationale to mental illness.  I just take what I can get to work, and I’m thankful for it; just a it more of what it “looks” like.

 

Complimented

When was the last time someone complimented you? Today? Yesterday? A week ago? A month? Can you remember when?

When was the last time you complemented someone else?

I believe it is John C. Maxwell who tells the story of his father who made it a point to compliment every person he talked to within the first 30 seconds of contact. That story impacted me greatly.

Being in the field of psychology has introduced and then reinforced the power of positive reinforcement above negative and punishment. But it was hearing that story that really hit home to me how valuable it is to speak into the lives of others. I have not become so adept as to manage it with every individual I encounter within the first 30 seconds of contact, but I am more aware of the concept now.

My mentor in college through my undergrad and graduate studies practiced positive psychology in most everything he did. I admired him because he was able to see the positive in every situation. That does not mean he didn’t see the negative. But isn’t it easy to see what isn’t working?

It seems to require a concentrated effort to procure the positive in what is otherwise termed a sinking ship process. My mentor taught me so much about choosing to work on what works in a situation. In our field we called it a cognitive reframe. In my human existence I call it…difficult.

My work is often with individuals in crisis of one form or another, generally dealing with mental health issues, but not always. I am good at what I do, because I see patterns in behavior. I am able to sort through the drama and find a source, but what I have missed in the past is the cognitive reframe. So, a few years back I began to work with the concept of helping individuals understand that no matter what they face in crisis, they can find something positive to move them forward.

That is how you find hope in the darkest of pits. You look for the light. On a spiritual level, I know that Yeshua is the light, but on a mental level, I am able to offer light to others sometimes by simply telling them they are fine just as they are, that the moment will pass eventually, that they are not alone, that they don’t have to have answers, and for those living on the outer edges of mental society…they are normal for where they are and what they are dealing with.

I hope that as time goes on I will be able to easily offer positive feedback to others. I don’t want to miss that individual who hasn’t had anything nice said to him/her for a long time, and my word could be the ending of that dry spell.

I know how refreshed my soul is when someone takes the time to speak affirmation into my life.  Do not you feel uplifted when someone says, “You have a beautiful smile,” or, “You are so smart!” Isn’t it nice to hear someone tell you matter? I know I do.  I guess it’s not just about being complimented and more about speaking life into another person.

Cleaning and Sorting

I have been doing some cleaning and sorting.  Every so often I get this sense of being buried alive in all the crap we accumulate, and I have to get a shovel and go through and throw stuff away.  When I reach the point I have been at of late, it’s no longer sorting and figuring out what goes to trash and what goes to the second hand store.  Nope. Everything goes in the garbage.

I like the idea of living minimally.  My husband and I live in a relatively small home, and we do so because we are trying to focus more on what we need rather than what we want, and having to keep our material goods within the confines of a small space is a good way to learn to clean and sort to fit.

I was sitting in the morning light with my cuppa Jo thinking that this cleaning and sorting  thing is a great analogy for healthy emotional psychological living.

Sometimes we get so bogged down with paraphernalia we are carrying from the past that it prevents us from making a leap onto the back of something great that will take us into an exciting phase in our lives.  I have said for many years that nostalgia is very dangerous, and there is nothing productive or forward functioning about it IF you spend a lot of time accessing it.

Notice how you hear a song or smell something and it transports you back in time to a place in your past?  Very strong isn’t it?  This is the only place nostalgia is truly healthy, because it naturally occurs in life.  We cannot help when that happens and we find ourselves standing, in a very real way, in a moment that occurred decades ago.  I had this happen the other day when we had a rain storm and the sound along with the smell was so strong in my senses that I found myself at 19 standing in the doorway of a hotel room where I used to work (as a housekeeper, let me be clear :)), watching a Montana rainstorm power its way through the afternoon.

It was like I was there, so strong was the sensory experience.

But I wasn’t, and the thing to remember with nostalgic moments is that they are only moments, and it is best not to spend a lot of time engaging them.  Now, that nostalgic moment had no significance on its own; no underlying meaning. However, there was a sense of longing, a sense of loss tied to it that I can only associate with the fact that I was young in that memory.  I had my whole life ahead of me, and time was on my side.

I am over halfway through my 40’s.  It is debatable as to how much time is on my side these days, and if I had spent time on that memory and how it made me feel, I could have gone down a rabbit hole that would have left me feeling old and discontent with my life.

Memories are not bad.  They are the recordings of our past, and we need them to sometimes remind us of where we come from, what we have done, and why we have ended up where we are.  But the problem with engaging in memories with the transport of nostalgia is the danger of choosing to live in the past rather than the present because we are distanced enough from the past to sort of “remake” it into what we want or what it should have been.  Notice how the further out you get the more the past has a golden glow to it?  We can’t do that with the present.  It’s at large in the realm of reality.

The danger with accumulating has to do with the reasons we accumulate.  If I am just lazy and don’t throw things away, that is easy to remedy.  A few hours on a weekend, and I’m golden.  The danger is when we accumulate to help us remember; to take us back to a time when things were “better”.  Keeping things because they take us back to a time so that we can live in the past, produces discontent with current life, grief over what has been lost between past and present, and often leads to serious depression.  Ask yourself when you experience nostalgia, how often do you come out of it feeling uplifted and ready to face the future?

I was reminded this weekend, as I sorted through items I have kept because they remind me of someone, I am not obligated to hang on to things to remember people or times.  Many of those people are still in my life.  Because I have such a terrible memory of the past due to my illness wiping the slate every time I have a crash, I tend to hang on to certain things, as they trigger or reinforce the memories I have managed to hang on to.  Some of those items I am keeping, but some of them I determined I simply did not need in my physical space or in my mental space.

If you are a person who hangs on to things but you feel you are becoming buried in reminders of the past, maybe don’t tell yourself you are going to get rid of everything.  Maybe start out small.  Get rid of a couple of things.  Give yourself time to see how that sits with you.  Then go back and eliminate a couple more things.

I have discovered that cleaning and sorting often not only clears my living space but my head space as well, and I find I feel a bit freer and a bit more the captain of my ship.

 

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