Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “anxiety”

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.

 

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.

 

Take Life or Retain It

Recent events have pushed me back to a subject I’m really tired of addressing in my journey:  The ability to take life or retain it.  I phrase it that way on purpose.  We can encapsulate a person’s ability to end life as suicide, but as per usual, we human beings feel the need to assign titles and then stereotype based on a narrow definition.  We see it in the news, life ending, on a scale larger than life.

We see it in our personal lives when those near to us make choices that change the direction of the journey for everyone involved.  It’s bigger than one word, folks, and the decision to retain life is as significant as is the choice to take it.  But we don’t focus on, “What ain’t broke,” right?  Well for those faced with the choice as though standing on a narrow ledge with a canyon on either side, one choice is every bit as valuable as the other.

Because of my journey with mental illness, the option to end my life has been a daily decision.  Every day I wake up thinking, “Is this the day I won’t find a reason to keep fighting?  It is a dialogue that is as familiar to me as that to brush my teeth, feed the dog, and do my list of chores for the day.  I have been addressing that commentary for over 30 years.   That is not necessarily the case of someone who does not battle mental illness. You can be taken to the ends of endurance for many reasons that do not include mental illness.

My personal belief is that desperation, disillusionment, and despair occur in the absence of hope, and many of us have lost hope in the midst of endless struggle where we simply knew we were incapable of going on, and an option to jump ship seemed not only the only option but completely rational in the face of ongoing battle and the complete depletion of our reserves.

I do not believe ending life is categorically defined as mental illness.  If so, in order to logically balance that statement, my NOT ending my life makes me NOT mentally ill, which would be lovely, but I have a bottle of lithium, anxiety meds, and a lack of mental control that would present as witnesses to the contrary.

My point in writing this is that we cannot look at the tail end of the life-ending process and attempt to address it there.  We must look at how it unfolds in life, and even then, the ability to determine to continue to live or to end life is the fundamental right of the person making the decision.  I am not advocating ending personal life.  If that were the case, I would have ended mine a long time ago.  I am saying we need to look at what we can do regardless of outcome.

We are such a reactive culture.  We bond together in aftermath.  Watch the patterns in our society, and you can’t miss it.  Our medical practices, our mental health practices, our reasons for changing our life practices are largely seated in reacting to something after it happens.  We lose weight after our health fails.  We address medical issues after the body fails.  We address mental health after we have lost it, and our systems for treatment perpetuate that.

So what is the answer?  I believe that we are always faced with choice.  We cannot change another person’s choices the majority of the time, but we can choose to love greatly, to invest mightily, and live the lives we have been given for as long as we have them.

I have been a public speaker for 25 years.  I have spoken to law enforcement, church organizations, and academic settings about my experience with bipolar disorder and what it has done to my life.  I have addressed suicide so authentically that it makes people very uncomfortable.  I have taught classes on addressing suicidal ideation in self, because it is arrogance to assume you can address this issue in someone else  unless they want to address it.  I adamantly profess self assessment and accountability when it comes to suicide, because it’s as much my responsibility to prevent my death every day as it is to do anything else I have committed to.

I believe with all my professional and personal experience that we need to look at suicide in a different way, because what we are doing is not working.  I am not sure a person who has made a decision to end life can be dissuaded.  It is either something done in overwhelming despair in the moment or planned out based on very thought out reasons and process.  Neither is really a scenario set up for talking through it.

People who reach out for help can be helped, but we need to come up with better ways to help, because what we are doing is not working.  We have to be willing to talk about suicide, what it is, what it does, and the fact that it is permanent.  The young do not necessarily understand this.  Duh.  Right?  Nope.  The brain is missing major logic connections, and there is often an inability to understand that there is no coming back from completed life termination.

We have to be willing to talk about the ending of life when we talk about living it, because it has become an acceptable solution in our current society.  Sometimes having notoriety in death is worth not being here for, just to know at SOME point people knew you were here and that you suffered.

There is a double-edged sword present in talking about suicide.  It can backfire with more suicides because people are often pushed to suicide because they feel alone and misunderstood.  The more we publicize those who have ended their lives, the more it speaks to the person who is so desperately needing to be seen.  But not talking about it causes stigma.  As I said, a double-edged sword.

We must get with people who have survived suicide attempts or ongoing suicidal ideation and learn from them; find out how they have managed living with such a permanent inclination.  We MUST redefine how we address the option to end life.  We are not getting anywhere.

I am going to sound as though I am talking through both sides of my face.  I believe in the right to decide for self.  But I also believe we must educate and open up what life ending does to the person and especially to the people that person loves.  The aftermath of death for any reason devastates those who love that person.  When an individual takes their own life, there is a feeling of betrayal and abandonment that accompanies many who are left behind that does not generally accompany other reasons for tragedy. We have to be ready for that, and when they reach out, we need to be willing to talk about it without condemnation.  It is never our place to judge, unless we have reached perfection ourselves.

The bigger issue is the lack of available treatment for those trying to get away from having to constantly make the decision whether or not to live.  I confess, I have no answers here.  I have largely steered clear of what is available in the professional sector for treatment for my illness.  I am medicated, but I am an authority on my illness.  I believe knowledge is power, and I am armed to the hilt.  I do not view the medical community as knowing any more than I do.  They are my employees, and I hire them to provide what I need.

I pray and ask my Creator to show me how my body functions.  I do not believe he made me with mental illness, but he has allowed it in my life for reasons I do not fully understand, and he has given me means to handle it that are not in the current treatment regime for such illnesses.  I have navigated outside the current system and the damage it does to people, but I have also used it to receive what I need to sustain my life.  I modify, modify, modify.  I surrendered a “normal” life long ago, and now I function at a daily deficit.

But I Function

This is an ongoing problem.  We cannot put a period on the end of this one.  We must start with those in our lives and begin to change how we look at this, one person at a time, and we must remember that as long as there is the option to live, there will be the option to die; the ability to take life or to retain it.

 

A Pain

I know that what I deal with is a pain for those in my personal life.  I mean, between the panic attacks and the inability to adapt quickly to new environments, and the instability triggered by it all, it just gets to them.  I would love to make things easier, and I try, but there is only so much I can do.  Because the bottom line is…

I am not normal.  I will never be normal.  I will always struggle with things that people take for granted as just part of living life.  I will never easily adapt to new things and environments.

We had a vacation.  It was filled with lovely things.  I would have loved to have enjoyed all of it, but I’m not equipped to “enjoy” such events.  I look longingly at events and adventures my friends and family have, and I wish I could go and do and come away thrilled with the experience, but the truth is, I come away with much less than I had going in.

It’s not about what I want.  I rarely get what I want, because my brain does not work like it should.  I am now trying to scramble to re-adapt to my home environment so that I don’t miss a step, whilst being at a deficit from maneuvering through everything we did when we were on vacation.

People wonder why those of us with major mental illness become suicidal.  Well, let me just clue in those who don’t deal with this stuff.  Exhaustion and the inability to keep up with the demands of others wears us to the point of thread bare.  And it never stops!  We are continually expected to function like everyone else all day long, every day.  I can say with confidence here that I am going to fail every time under those expectations.

It must be difficult for people to have someone like me in their lives, trying to accommodate to make things better, never knowing which way to jump to make it easier, better.  I struggle as well, only I never get to push back from the table and say, “I have had enough; I don’t want to play any more.”  I don’t get that option.  It’s live and in color 24/7…living mental.

Me going to a social function in a strange place with thousands of people and having an expectation that I should enjoy it, is like me going to a baseball field, stacking all the plates, the pitcher’s mound, all the equipment in my arms and then telling me to “play ball”.  I’m already overloaded, so me joining in the game and swinging for the fence is just not going to happen.  I try.  I give it what I have to give, but I am not graceful about it.

And so those in my life are faced with a few options, give up doing anything social in order to stay in the environments where I optimally perform, have me come with them where they face having me drag down their fun as I struggle to cope in the environment, or go by themselves to such occasions.  It’s a difficult decision for them.  My immediate family does pretty well, but then they are all introverted so they need very little interaction in big social settings.  My husband, however, is extroverted, so it is difficult for him to get the interaction he needs and still have me with him.  I also have many friends who are very active and always doing fun things, and I just can’t do it all.

The first severe panic I had was in Kansas City at an amusement park.  There were thousands of people there. It was very hot, and I found myself in a sea of people being jostled about like flotsam on the waves.  The entire world became blurry and started to spin.  I felt I was being upended, and the closeness of the heat and bodies contributed, making me black out for a moment.  I don’t remember how I made it out of the crowd, but I ended up in a little atrium area, sitting on a bench.  A friend found me and gave me a paper bag, telling me to breath in an out of it.

That was the official entry of social phobia which quickly let to agoraphobia.  I never feel safe in public.  Even if, mentally, I’m solid on the environment, my fight or flight response will kick in and leave me in a primal state. I tend to feel guilty when I can’t be what the people in my life need me to be, but that is just hubris on my part.  It is unrealistic for anyone to expect they can be all things for all those in their lives at all times.

I’m angry because I came away from this experience feeling defeated, when in fact, it was a huge win.  I managed to survive three days with constant interactions with people in large environments  that were extremely over stimulating.  I had two issues where I had panic attacks but they were minimal in comparison to the debilitating panic attacks that wreck me for hours.

In reflecting on the experience last night I decided I was going to take this as a win for me, personally.  I would never have attempted such an endeavor in years past.  I won’t claim there weren’t difficulties, and going to the large event, much like the amusement park that kicked everything off over a decade ago, was probably not a good idea on my part.  Still, I made it through about an hour of swimming through a sea of hot sweaty people whilst being hot and sweaty as well.

The real struggle is trying to find balance with a spouse who is very extroverted.  I don’t have many options for compromise.  I can either go and fall apart at some point, be scared from the beginning that I will fall apart at some point, or stay away from such situations and let him go and enjoy himself.

I will go and attempt such places and have always done so just to stretch myself a bit.  I mentioned in a previous blog that agoraphobia is a hole that continually tries to close over me, so I am always trying to keep it open so I can crawl out.  Such events stretch that hole a bit further, even if for just a short time, so I need to continue to attempt to take such risks.

However, I need to do so without the pressure of letting someone I love down and creating disappointment for them.  I don’t want to do that, and I don’t want the stress of ruining a potentially great experience for someone else because I can’t control my body.  I may have to go with someone who is not so interested in being at the event and who will be okay with leaving, even if it’s 15 minutes into the adventure.

I could dwell on the fact that I am no longer a person who gets enjoyment out big group events base on the simple fact that my body cannot handle it, but I don’t think that is healthy. The reality is that it is what it is, and I am done trying to accommodate everyone else by performing at a level that exceeds my range of actually capability.  It’s generally me placing those expectations, though there is frustration produced by others when I am unable to perform as everyone else, so I know there is a level of expectation, albeit subconscious.  The price is too high and is generally underappreciated by those I’m trying not to inconvenience.  If you want me along, I’m a special needs case, and there will be adaptive measurements in place for me to go along.

I have a friend in a wheel chair.  It would be stupid for her to attempt to get her chair in through an area it won’t fit just because all the people in her life can walk it with ease. There has to be room made for her to get through, or she can’t go.  It is no different for me, and I’m done trying to be something I’m not.  I’m sorry this is such a pain for the people in my life, truly, but this is what I have to work with, I can’t modify any more than I have, and I must learn to accept that if I want to live a longer life.

The Constant Companion

We are going on vacation, and the preparation process for me is a bit different than from my friends who do not have mental illness as a constant companion.  Chris and I have had few opportunities for vacations in the years we have been married, so we are very excited to be able to take some time and just go play.

For me, the preparation for such an event starts a couple of weeks before we actually go.  Even if I only had me to take care of, it would be that way, but since I also have to make arrangements for the dog and the cat, there is more responsibility and more stress involved.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it?  Maybe not, but it’s not the bipolar that is the issue in these situations.  Not at this point.  It’s the agoraphobia, and if it is not contained, it will trigger instability with the bipolar component, and then EVERYTHING will become a big deal.

So about two weeks before the designated date, I start formulating a plan for execution in my head.  I think of everything that needs to be done and how I will implement each task.  The goal is to have very little to do right before time to leave. It’s really all about eliminating as much stress as possible.

I begin taking anti anxiety medication at that time.  I know that no matter how much I plan, I will still be escalated when it is time to change environments, but the medication will help keep the lid on the disorder.  I am also planning even further ahead with the meds, as I know I will be entering unknown environments our whole vacation, and each change will trigger the agoraphobia.  I want to enjoy my time, but I especially want my husband and sister, whom we will be meeting up with, to enjoy their time as well.  That will not happen if I’m having continual panic attacks, which will trigger the BP and cause mood instability.

As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or agoraphobia in m case.

For those of you trying to figure out why a fear of spiders is classified as an anxiety disorder (though that isn’t a far stretch by my way of thinking either), agoraphobia is a fear of spaces.  It can be small spaces, like claustrophobia or large open spaces like standing in the middle of a room.  It is often accompanied by, initiated by, or results in social phobias.  Agoraphobia designates spaces as unsafe where the person feels trapped, at which point the fight or flight instinct kicks and manifests all kinds of fun physical features that accompany panic attacks.

Agoraphobia is very rare. Only about 1% of those with anxiety issues have agoraphobia.  I was officially diagnosed with agoraphobia about 15 years ago, but I had been dealing with it much earlier.  I was a shut in in my home for about a year, and I fight every day to keep it under control.  It’s like trying to crawl out of a hole that is continually trying to close.  I have to push and fight my way out of it every day. All day.

The medication helps, but I don’t take it all the time, as I don’t want to build up immunity, and if I have to deal with this for a lifetime, this medication I know to be safe and nonaddictive.   I don’t want “wear” it out too soon in the game.  So I take it when I know I’m going to be dealing with a lot of new environments, and I start taking it far enough ahead to make sure I have efficacy.  The rest of the time I use cognitive reframing as a means of keeping it under control.

I mentioned in another recent blog that bipolar is an unwanted guest I have locked in a guest house.  Agoraphobia is the annoying dog, that if not constantly monitored, will rile up the monster and actually slip the lock for the BP to get out.  I can’t have that, so I am diligent, often giving the agoraphobia more attention than might actually be necessary, but it’s the only way to be sure I have it under control

I do a lot of training with my agoraphobia “dog”.  I do a lot of behavioral modification.  I make it attend and bend to behaviors I deem appropriate, and I watch my thought life to the point of obsession.  If I don’t, if I allow myself to watch things that negatively impact, I begin to escalate and that little dog starts acting up.  It’s the same with people who constantly perpetuate drama and would suck me in to what they are creating.  I cannot allow that, as the price for me is catastrophic.  The irrational fear of spaces and feeling trapped every time I want to step out of my home becomes nearly unmanageable.

So in preparing for a vacation, I know that the little dog is going to try to act up.  I’m watching my sleep.  I’m eliminating any stress I can control, and I’m being organized in the process.  It helps me to know that I will be with my husband, who is big and tough, and not only protective but gracious as well.  I will also be with my sister who has been involved with my illnesses since before I was stabilized, and she knows how things work…and don’t work.

I find that the longer I live with these illnesses, the more I am able to roll with what they do to me.  Nothing diminishes.  In fact I would say both have gotten, maybe not worse, but certainly more concentrated over the years.  The biggest thing to remember when dealing with what other people deem “normal living functions,” such as going on vacations, is that mental illness is an added challenge. The more condemnation I heap upon myself about the fact that I can’t function as others do, or that I take a lot of work to get me to a place where I can participate, I am sabotaging my progress.

I think that is the take away here.  Do not come down on yourself because you take more maintenance.  The fact that you even attempt to go outside your comfort zone, is huge, and even if others condemn you for being different or higher maintenance to function, don’t ever do that to yourself.  Pat yourself on the back for every step you take in a different direction.

Life is still what we make it, even if it looks different through the lens of mental illness.  I fight for the things in my life I feel I should be able to access just because I’m living and breathing, and much like a theater production, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that no one knows about to make something happen for a short period of time.  I have arrived at a place where I understand that now, and I just do the best I can.  If I can’t “do,” then I apologize and try to just “be”.  Be gracious to yourself, even if others are not.  Those who do not have mental illness as a constant companion cannot begin to understand what it takes to build a moment, but what is most important is that YOU do.

Creative Surges

I have been having a creative surge, and it is nice.  I don’t tend to write unless I am compelled, and generally I’m compelled from an uncomfortable place within me.  It’s a strange sort of electric sadness that propels me onward in my writing.  It has been dormant for some time, and it is difficult for people to follow your blogs when you are sporadic in your writing!

This morning I woke up knowing I was not in the sad place.  I am in a place of intense frustration, which generally renders me problematic to those around me and much less able to focus on expanded creative thought processes.  I am attempting to persevere, though, because I sense some valuable information may be forthcoming at some point for someone who is looking, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to help, if even just a little bit.

While I certainly do not have all the answers to life or even life with mental illness, I can say with certainty, I have beaten most of the odds when it comes to quality of life and longevity with mental illness.  I am staring 46 in the face, and I do believe I have learned a couple of take-aways from this life I have been living.

  1.  I am never gonna arrive.  I am never going to look at my life and say, “Finally, it is just the way I always wanted it!”  Not going to happen.  I am too much of a perfectionist and the winds of change blow too freely through my lifescape to allow me any sort of arrival I am content to stay with.
  2. I am never going to land.  I have a desire for a life that has meaning; significant meaning.  I have warred with this against the desire to have a little cottage with a true English garden where few know me and I can just live my days in peace and quiet.  The problem is that I have never been able to marry the two concepts together, and it is the warring between them that keeps me from being able to land in one place, not to mention a husband who would never stand for the quiet subdued life.

I confess, my desires pull me asunder.  I am continually trying to fulfill one or the other and generally failing all around.  Should I write?  Should I make money?  Why can’t I do both?  Why can’t one perpetuate the other?  Now THERE’S a novel thought!  Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil I make decisions that I think will aide in direction, only to find they contribute to the unrest and indecision already affecting my abilities to access creative processes.

I have had heard that I “must really decide what I most want to do and then go after it.”  That is just unrealistic as a blanket statement, because the truth is that sometimes you just can’t have or do what you most desire.  Sometimes you have to work a job that is not even close to what you want to do the majority of the time just so you can have a few hours every day or week to DO that thing you most desire.  That is often the reality of life, and no matter how much you want the thing your heart desires, this is life, and we are often more caught in the throes of it than rowing steadily along on top of it.

I once read that if you are in a place of confusion DO NOT blindly wander about like a person caught in a blizzard.  You never know what you will run into whilst you are blindly staggering about.  Stand still.  Wait.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!  The big W.  I just hate that word, but sometimes, most times, it does not “take two to make a thing go right.”  It takes waiting to make a thing go right, and I have found, though it’s generally in retrospect, that waiting makes the difference in how messy things get.

So, say it with me, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and it is taking time to swallow where the waiting occurs. Ah Ha!  Food for thought!!  So you take small bites of your elephant, and I will do the same with mine.  In the process, I’m hopeful there will be more creative surges and fewer periods of waiting, though it is only a fleeting hope.

 

 

The Monster in the Guest House

Over the years I have attempted to describe my special brand of mental illness with vivid imagery like, the monster in the guest house, so as to lend someone who has never experienced mental illness a way to identify if even just a little with what goes on in the life of a person with major mental illness.  I’ve no idea how successfully I have managed to do that.  I know that when I do speaking engagements I often get feedback from those kind enough to listen to me in regards to the vivid imagery I use, suggesting that they have in some way been able to relate.  That positive reinforcement compels me to look further for ways to help bridge the gap to understanding, because stigma exists out of fear of the unknown, and the best way to ameliorate fear is to educate.

The icon I have used that I feel best defines the existence of bipolar disorder in my life has been the monster in the guest house.  I have written this out before, but I have had so many different venues for my writing that I am unable to find my original writing, and there is the fact that I was also writing a dissertation whilst writing blogs, and some things disappeared in the process and my wearing out laptops and not getting everything saved beforehand.

So, without further ado…

My life with bipolar is like having a monster show up on the doorstep of my house, insisting that it is going to move in.  That is what happened at 22 years old.  Now, I wrestled and fought this monster, but I was poorly armed, so while it rampaged in my house, tearing everything apart, I began to search for reinforcements.

There really were no human beings able to help me. They had never seen such a monster, and their response was that I simply control it or pretend it was not there.  But the monster could not be controlled, and I could not pretend it was not there.  It not only tore up my house, but it was a shape shifter and would alter its appearance to look like me, then run out of my house and do things others could see.  They would think it was ME doing those things.

I found a doctor who gave me some magic pills and told me that he could not see the inside of my house or the monster, but the more I explained to him what my house looked like, what the monster was doing, and how I was feeling, he could better help me.  I was relieved to have someone in my life willing to help and who seemed to be able to plot a course for killing the monster.

What I came to realize was that the monster was so attached to me and to my house, that if I killed him, I would also die.  Many times I very nearly killed the monster.  Many times I nearly succeeded.

I decided that I would not be a victim.  I would be a warrior.  I armed myself with as much information as possible, and though the magic pills did not work, I continued to search for ones that would.  I became strong in my knowledge, and authority on the monster.  I became powerful in my abilities to trick the monster, and finally after 10 years, I found a magic pill that helped.

I was able to take the magic pill and close places in my house in a way that rendered the monster limited in its ability to access them.  The magic pill was not a cure, but it was a powerful weapon in limiting the monster, and eventually it only had access to a couple of rooms in my house.

One day I met a brain wizard. He was a doctor of cognitive behavioral practices, and he taught me how to take a thought and remake it into a better functioning thought.  This was valuable, because the biggest power the monster had was to take thoughts that roamed freely in my house and turn them into twisted ugly things that didn’t come close to their original structure.  They would turn on me and attack like little rabid dogs. The brain wizard helped me grab hold of those twisted thoughts and remake them.

I realized I could act on the monster’s weakened state, so I kicked it out the door of my house and locked it in the guest house.  I told it I may never be able to kick it off my property but I was not going to allow it to destroy my house any longer.  I locked it up, and with the magic pills and the skills taught by the brain wizard, I have managed to keep it there…

For the most part.

After so many years of battling the monster, my house is not the same.  There are scars, gouges, from where it sliced through walls.  I have rebuilt the furniture many times, and the appliances work, though not as well as they used to. It is not a pretty house any more.  Things are tidy, but often the walls shake with the monster’s rage and attempts to break out of the guest house, and things fall and break. There are fewer rooms to secure these days.  The last time the monster broke out of the guest house, he broke down more walls, so the house is pretty open.  And though the memory room still stands, there is no longer a door.  That is the room that the monster likes to wreck, and it is the room it takes me the longest to restore.  In fact there have just been too many things that have gone missing from that room.

I feel that for the most part I have been fortunate in my dealings with the monster.  I have had people move in around me who are good neighbors, people who help me watch the guest house and alert me when things are looking unsettled.  Mainly, though I have a Being in my life that is unafraid of any monsters life can produce.  I was angry at the Being for a long time.  I thought he had put the monster on my property, but I have come to realize he has orchestrated all the weapons I have obtained, and the beautiful neighbors who help me are there by his design.

Here’s the ironic part.  The Being has helped me realize my life has more meaning because of what lives on my property. I am a more dimensional, humble, and empathetic person because the Being didn’t kill the monster but helped me submit the monster.  Some days I stand guard very well.  Other days I struggle to make it to my post from the sheer magnitude of stress caused by having such a creature on my property, but I continue in my precarious existence, and I attempt life with grace bestowed on my by the Being and those beautiful neighbors.  I find I have a light of hope walking back and forth between my house and where the monster is housed that reassures me that there is more good for me than bad.  I find I can employ  gratefulness and identify with others, and I believe I am able to do those things largely because of the presence of the monster in the guest house.

Mind, Metaphor, and Getting Tethered

It’s been too long.  It’s not that there was nothing to say, I just didn’t know how to say it.  I am ever at my best when seated with “pen” in hand, as I am not really as adept at verbal exchange as I pretend.  And, well, I have been missing a piece of my self, my soul.  I have been adrift for the past year; just feeling really at sixes and sevens with me, but there have been a few exchanges and events of late that have brought me round to remembering that the best way to get tethered to what matters again is to delve into the depths of me and what has been going on in terms of changes on my lifescape.

I have been in an all out war with mental illness for the majority of my life.  I have been a public speaker about my experiences with major mental illness, a writer, and I have worked with people who are mentally ill, as well as those who have a mentally ill loved one in their lives, for nearly two decades.  Living with mental illness rather than succumbing to it is an ongoing battle that never ends.  It permeates every single function and every singe moment of the day.  It destroys, erodes, overtakes, distorts, fractures, and decays every part of a human life…

If allowed.

In my twenties I found myself adrift on the wreckage of my life in a vast ocean of psychotic malfunction and biological disruption.  There was no compass.  The basics like cognitive control and all the other evolved limbic functions like memory, social acuity, and self-comprehension, were no longer present.  I was adrift on a vast ocean, small and insignificant, on the surface of huge illness that would never fully divulge its secrets, much like the oceanic metaphor I am using.

I determined I would either dive off that piece of wreckage and end my life, or I would commit to living the most “normal” life I could possibly procure for myself.

I was very naive.  I now understand that if “normal” exists, it is not in my sphere.  I had two things going for me,  my loved ones, and my God.  Not the God that is in a white robe with a long beard, awaiting the opportunity to smite me if I step wrong.  That God would be rendered absolutely worthless to me.  Not some nebulous universal thing that plays games with me, using chance and karma as a way to get even with me or devise a series of rewards if I pull the magic ticket or do something it agrees with.  I have no patience with such nonsense.

I needed a meaty God who would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in my life;  a God who would sit with me in the darkest, thickest, most horrible depressions (medicated depressions, mind you) that were so very despairing and hopeless that I would want to pull my skin off in order to balance the horrific pain in my mind that came from nowhere, suffocating every single light in my world with black night.

I needed a God who could break through horrific despair that left me crying out in so much pain, tears could not flow, with a handful of pills in one hand, and the other hand pulling at my hair trying to find release.  I needed a God who could handle rages that came from nowhere allowing no release; a God who would comfort me, help me find answers, and NOT condemn me.

I found him.  I found the God that helped me function not only as a viable human being, but a human being able to perform at an extremely high level of functionality, with healthy relationships, and accomplishments that mean something to me.  I found a God I am not afraid to let see every single part of my vast and open mind that alters between dark void to colors and movement so prolific as to make the Borealis appear blase’; a God that not only loves me anyway but shows me magnificent things about that which was presented in my life to destroy me.

I very much admired Carrie Fisher.  I’m not really a fan of heroes in human beings, but I have very much valued her honesty in dealing with mental illness.  She was authentic and raw, something that is very valuable in a disease that is stigmatized. I find that, since her death, I am less tolerant of excuses and behaviors from people who refuse to be accountable for mental illness they are dealing with.  I suppose the reason for the correlation between the two is because I considered Carrie a success in living with major mental illness, and in her death I find I am less indulgent of stupid mindsets regarding mental illness.  I struggle every day to function in a way that others take for granted.  There are times when I have been at work and only a few hours earlier it was uncertain as to whether or not I would commit suicide.

I maintain balance as precariously as any tightrope walker.  I stay on a schedule.  I toss unhealthy people out of my life like debris on fire, even if I like them.  I say “no” a lot, because I owe it to myself, my husband, my family, my friends, to set boundaries with myself an others in order to maintain that balance I must have to function.  My life is a series of enormous and vibrant spikes stretching beyond view but confined in a space no bigger that than a plastic milk crate.  There are no continual social interactions with limitless potential for more in my sphere of living.  I am constantly over stimulated in my work environments, where everyone else is unaffected.  Some days when I get home, I put in ear plugs to just have a break from continual noise that permeates our cultured in every crack and crevice.

I had a conversation with a young woman some time back where she assured me she had bipolar disorder.  It was cavalierly said, and I confess it rankled.  I do NOT have a casual existence with bipolar disorder.  It has become the poster child for every outrageous behavior, an excuse to be and do whatever with, “I have bp, so I can’t help it.”

Only abut 1% of the population has bipolar disorder, and just as I fall into the 1% category of those in the country with a doctorate, I also qualify in the bipolar category. One I’m proud of.  The other distinction, I could certainly do without, and it annoys me when people who have no bloody clue toss it about like a hall pass to behaving any way they like.

I am medicated, have been for nearly 25 years.  It would take about 5 days without medication for me to be rendered incapable of functioning in the world at large.  Even with medication, I am forced to make major adjustments, especially since I also have agoraphobia, a very severe anxiety disorder. I don’t have the option of partying a little too much.  I don’t have the option of staying up too late several days in a row.  I don’t have the option of jumping from one social event to another.

IF I want to be able to do all the things that healthy functioning adults do, I cannot do a lot of the things that healthy functioning adults do.

I also find I am really, really intolerant of people feeling they need justification or proof of my mental illness.  I told my mom the other day that no matter my age, 23, 34, or 50, those of us with mental illness will always be expected to expand or prove just how mentally ill we are in order to do the things that keep us the healthiest.  The difference for me is that the older I get the less willing I am to humor other people’s requirements for justification.

So if you are mentally ill, focus on health and balance.  Do not spend your time trying to convince other people that you are as sick as you are.  Because the truth is that they won’t believe you anyway, and I have found that people who require you to show them that you are in fact in need of being different because you have a very serious illness, are the people who tend to be least capable of maintaining health and balance in their own lives.

Untangling the Mess

 

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I have talked in the past two blogs about some of the psychology of accumulating and how to get started in an overwhelming situation.  For many people the accumulating of things is about the “get”, the good deal; the best deal.  Accumulating can mean security for many.  But many come to a point where they either begin to get really uncomfortable with the volume of items they possess, or they are going through a life change.

It is important that if you are the person who wants to declutter, that you are slow in this process and you do not start it with condemnation.  It will not be beneficial to be hard on yourself.  The process itself will be hard enough!

If you are a person assisting another with decluttering, be kind.  If you are frustrated with the accumulation and their inability to throw things out, don’t even attempt to help them, because you won’t be helping them, you will be traumatizing them, and you will not be setting them up for a successful endeavor.  Remember this is not YOUR stuff.  This is not YOUR issue.  So be willing to help them, not condemn them.

If you get into a situation and find you cannot get rid of things, or if you are helping someone and they just can’t let go, don’t force it.  Walk away from the project.  The person who is the collector has to be the one to do it, and if you are that person, step away and re-evaluate a few things.

First, why are you doing this?  Write it down.  Is your reason worth the effort, and is it personal.  If you write down, “My daughter is nagging me to get rid of stuff,” or “My spouse wants my to get rid of stuff,” rethink the project, because if you are doing it for someone else, you are leaving room for failure and resentment.  Come up with a reason that benefits you.  Now, if you believe your spouse might leave you because he/she cannot walk through the house, that might be a good reason for you to make some changes.

Second, what is your goal?  Do you want to empty a room?  Is there a certain type of thing you want to eliminate, such as clothes you have had since you were a child?  Or are you moving and need to seriously shed some stuff?

I mentioned, in my last blog, going into a room, starting on one side and working around, creating piles for keep and to get rid of.  If you are moving, you should clean out two rooms and use one for all the stuff you want to keep and one for all the stuff you are either going to donate or sell in a garage sale.

I have even started with the two rooms I wanted to use for this process.  I started on one wall and worked around each, creating piles.  I got boxes and boxed as I went.  You can also use garbage bags for a lot of things.  But, the point is to organize as you go.  So one side of the room becomes the section for things you are keeping.  The other side is for those things you are getting rid of.  Hopefully the other room you have designated for storage is at least on the same floor.  So do it the same as the other room.  It will get chaotic for a bit until you get things shuffled around but once you get those two rooms set up, you can use them as base for your process.

It would be good to have the rooms on the ground floor or even the garage if you can.  The main thing is to get a space set up for putting things you want to keep but don’t need right away that can be packed and left until you move.  If you can’t do two rooms, fill your car with stuff to get rid of and then take it away.  If you are having a garage sale find an out of the way corner somewhere and start stacking things for the sale.

When my sister and I moved to Alaska, in the six months prior to leaving, I filled up the garage with stuff for a garage sale, had a sale, then filled it up again, and had another sale.  As you get better at sorting, you will find it easier to organize.  You may struggle with conflicting emotions about the fact that things are emptying out where you are both pleased and upset about that, but keep reminding yourself of the reason you are doing this and that it outweighs your anxiety.

The most important thing to all of this decluttering stuff is that you have a really good reason to do it.  There must be a motivation that benefits you, makes your life better, and outweighs your reasons for accumulating.  Don’t even start the process before finding such a reason.

 

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