Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “health”

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.

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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.

 

Words Like…Intimacy

I am a person of words.  I have always been so, according to my mother.  I enjoy taking words and using them differently than what is usual.  It has always been a game for me and something that keeps an over active brain occupied.  I am forever looking for ways to define life in a unique way.  This in combination with my background in psychology leaves me looking for patterns in society and vocabulary in which those patterns are defined, and my current focus is on how our society is defining intimacy.

The translation of intimacy seems to have streamlined to the external and focuses on sex.  Sex is certainly one expression of intimacy, but I hope we know there is so much more to it.  There are words that live outside of what I hear being used to define intimacy.  There are moments that far better define the act of intimacy, and those moments should be articulated in our society.

I hear people talk about love and sex as if they are mutually inclusive.  You are not loving someone if you are not having sex, and maybe the most concerning is the idea that sex is the definition of love, so you can’t love without having sex.

I’m not really concerned about the sex life of the person next to me.  What I am concerned with is this ideology that sex and love are mutually inclusive and yet…

We use the two terms rather easily as though they are both disposable, used and easily tossed away. It is a dichotomy that causes me some dismay and seems to create confusion.  You may be reading this and scratching you head at what I am saying, so let me see if I can better articulate what I looking at here.

I can have sex.  I can enjoy sex with someone.  That does not mean I love them.  It means I allowed them access to my body, rendered myself vulnerable on several levels to explore a physical moment.  That does not mean I love that person.

I can love a person.  I can feel my heart nearly explode with love every time I see them, and yet I can choose not to have sex with them.  Because I did not have sex does that mean I love them less?  In not having sex, I choose not to fulfill the body, soul, and mind experience that should accompany loving someone.

Intimacy is a further expression of knowing someone so well and caring so deeply for them you express that in multiple ways.

So here is the thing, intimacy is not about sex. Intimacy is defined in the dictionary as a “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group,” and, a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.,”  

I would combine the two definitions and say, “a close familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with detailed knowledge or deep understanding of another person.” The definition in the dictionary does render “sexual intercourse” and an “amorous act” as definitions of intimacy, but I should hope the term is far more dimensional than that.  We have many ways of expressing the act of sex, so let’s look at intimacy with a bit more depth.

Intimacy is weathering a loss with another person, learning about them and self through the storm, and one day down the road, looking at them across the table in a group of people, and suddenly only the two of you are in the room.  You and that person share a moment of such intense knowledge of one another because of what you have learned about one another through fire that you transcend the moment and physical space to become joined in a single moment through a single moment.

Intimacy is being in a place that is uncomfortable, in a situation that is uncomfortable, having your partner brush a finger lightly along the outside of your hand and suddenly everything shifts and that one action levels the playing field.

Intimacy is knowing a person so well you know what not to say to keep from hurting them and what will take them out in a fight.

Intimacy is about building something with another person, whether they be a lover or a loved one, to the point where you trust they know you nearly as well as you know yourself, and if you ever needed them to make decisions for you, you know you could trust them.

Intimacy is about sharing, sacrificing, exposure, loving, living, wanting, giving, strength, passion, intricacy, need, selflessness, vulnerability, empowerment, knowledge, patience, faith, trust, hope, longing, self-control, vitality, tenacity, perspicacity, transparency, and surrender.

Sex may be a big part of intimacy, but it is not the definition, and I feel a need to write this out, because we are losing the value of intimacy.  I think people don’t want to fight for it.  It is less messy and doesn’t take as much time if we do not focus on intimacy in relationships;

but then what is left?

I watched a movie many years ago.  Can’t think what it was now, but what stuck with me was something the main actor said, “I want someone who knows me so well, he knows what kind of toothpaste I use,” and I remember thinking that if I were to ever commit to someone I would want him to care enough about me to learn what matters to me, my idiosyncrasies, and my processes; who I am; my details.

I have a few intimate relationships that I value above all things.  They have taken time to build.  They have weathered so much of my life with me.  These people, I hope, I will never have to go through life without, and of course, my most intimate relationship is with my husband.

We have weathered big storms together, and though sex is certainly a part of that, what glues us together in the big life storms is not that act.  It’s all the other things that express knowledge and understanding of one another.  There are times when sex heals us, but far more often its a look of intense knowing, a shared history, a touch that says, “I’m here,” the hug that expels the day, the kiss that leaves the soft promise of things to come, and the verbal expression of, “I so love you,” through tears of pain and grief that somehow leaves comfort as it lingers.

That’s intimacy.

 

 

 

The Waiting Room

I have been exploring the waiting room. I spend a lot of time here; more time than in any other place. The waiting room I am referencing here is an icon for the time I spend waiting on change in my life. As an expert on change leadership, I find it interesting that the models that address change for organizations do not include waiting. It is so easy to put all the focus on the traumas of change, and there are a lot, but in my personal walk, I find the waiting to be the most difficult. Sometimes when I am waiting I truly cannot stand where I am at. I desperately need change that seems to be elusive.

Other times I know change is about to occur. I can feel it in my bones, and all indicators point that way, but the process seems to pause. It takes a deep inhale and then refuses to exhale for much longer than I care to wait. And finally, sometimes I am waiting in the midst of change. The change process has started and then stalled. I cannot really say which type of waiting is most difficult for me. I have experienced all three types, and I really just cannot pinpoint which is worse, but one thing I can say with certainty, all types happen to me. They were a part of my past, are in my present, and will continue in my future, I am certain.

So what is the point of waiting? Well, if you wait something out, you persevere, right? And that perseverance sustains to an outcome at some point. Okay, fine, but what about when you are finding it nearly impossible to wait? I could give lots of glib responses that we have all heard. Waiting develops patience. Waiting helps us grow. We have to trust Abba in the midst of waiting. We have to have faith and hope that it will all work out. While all of these responses are true, my visceral reaction is…BLAH! I know all the typical responses, and yet they produce little in the way of answering two questions, “Why do I always have to wait?”, and “What is the benefit of waiting?” These two questions may be kissing cousins in terms of content, but they are uppermost in my mind every time I end up in a waiting cycle.

I know very few people who love to wait. There are some who seem to manage it better and are better equipped to maintain while waiting for the bus to start moving again. Bully for them. I don’t happen to be one of those individuals, and every time I begin waiting for another period of time, I am no better at it than the last time. It is most likely a character flaw I have, no doubt. In large part, though, I have decided that the previous questions are rhetorical. I have not procured any answers as to why I have to wait other than that waiting is part of life. For those on a spiritual journey along with the flesh and bone type, waiting is often part of learning a lesson that cannot be obtained elsewhere and is vital to the next change. I have to relearn every time that I must give over anxiety and fear of what I cannot see and relax with a trust that Abba’s timing is perfect. And to be honest, if I had no Abba to trust in, no faith or journey for my soul, I seriously doubt I would sustain through waiting times. It is simply not in my nature to be passive, so waiting on the exterior to meet up with interior experience is just not something I can do without Abbas’ reassurance that he’s got “this”.

As to the benefit of waiting? I think the benefit of choosing to wait rather than plow ahead, as I am want to do, exists in an outcome that is better timed, embellished with more advanced skill sets that are obtained only in the waiting period. But, while I can provide rationale for my questions, I am no more comfortable with the process than before.

I guess my point here is that waiting is a necessary part of the human existence whether we do it well or not, whether we understand it or not, and whether we learn life lessons along the way or not. In writing this little circular essay about something I detest, I have somehow managed to reconcile my will with doing so once again. And THAT was the point of the exercise.

To those in the waiting room…Since we are here once again, maybe we should leave some notes on the walls and chairs to remind us about the process the next time. Maybe we need to graffiti the place so that next time we will know we survived the last time, and not only did the waiting leave a mark on us, but we left our mark as well. In doing so we will move from passive orientation to active, and that suits me fine.

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.

Worth Living

I could write a blog about the things mental illness does in my life that makes it difficult to or not worth living, but what a drag, right?  There is more to life than mental illness, and though it is the lens through which I view all things in life, it is NOT life.

I have worked with so many people, encountered so many people over the years, who are completely unwilling to own what they are and what they have as a human being.  It is unfortunate, as owning everything is what ultimately gives us victory.  I have never encountered someone who has been mentally ill for a long time and says, “I ignored my illness, never was accountable for anything my instability caused or did, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.  It made all the difference in my ability to be healthy.”

I have observed in my own life and the life of others that hope and fulfillment come from fearfully stepping into ownership, and I do not count self-medicating as a means of healthy treatment.  It just can’t sustain stability, as the means are often unhealthy in themselves.  That is not so say that there are not varying ways in which to address mental illness, but self-medication will show results quickly, and most often those results leave the person in a much more compromised state rather than one of power.

One of the things I am most proud of in life, is the relationships I have.  It is very difficult for people with mental illness to sustain healthy relationships.  It is just so very difficult to live with mental illness, maintain stability, AND have someone close to you.  I have been so fortunate to have healthy whole people actually want to be a part of my life, and I truly believe just one healthy relationship makes all the difference in the journey.  When you can’t find hope, they can remind you it still exists.

The thing about mental illness is that it is like another skin.  I see people continually trying to shed it like it’s a coat, and they end up frustrated and much worse off by investing energy in something that cannot be changed. I still, after 25 years, struggle with the desire to somehow get away from it.  That is natural.  It is unnatural to have mental illness.  But when that is the way life rolls out, you must, at some point, if you want to have any quality of life, move on from that mind set.

So every day I face a new set of challenges just within my own mind, before I ever step foot out the door.  I am not a person who enjoys being around other people a lot.  They drain me, so I must pace myself.  It’s not generally something others do that makes me shy away.  I get overwhelmed by the constant stimulation that occurs when engaging in social settings.  I fake being outgoing and engaging for a while, but the cost is high, and I can only affect it for a while before I need to withdraw and regroup.

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t very social, like I was a bad person because I didn’t want to run all the time.  But the truth is, I like being at home.  I like solitude.  I like my husband, I would rather engage with him than run out to a social setting with people I don’t know well.  There is nothing wrong with going out to engage with others socially; not at all, but I simply don’t need it.  I do not feel I am missing out on something or that I am lonely.  I have a circle of people in my life, and as far as I am concerned, they are cream of the crop.  Why would I need to go further, when I can be with them?

My husband, parents, and siblings just happen to be my closest friends.  It’s nice when the people you are related to are also your most intimate friends.  I also have friends I am not related to.  Not tons, as I don’t need tons.  I have a few I spend time with occasionally, but my love for them is deep, and I know they love me.  I feel honored to have friends like I do.  I don’t deserve them, and I will always be there for them. It’s important to understand what true friendship is.  A lot of times, I think mental illness robs us of our “healthy things” equilibrium, and we end up adding people into our lives as friends when they really only want to sabotage us. We must learn the difference.

Some of the friends I have, I have had for 15 years and more.  They have grown with me, experienced loss with me, prayed for me and I for them.  Some friends are newer in my life, but they overwhelm me with their kindness and grace to me.  When I first started my new business, my friends came to me as clients and would tip me more than the cost of the service!  It’s not about the money.  It was their way of showing they believe in me, that they have my back, and they want something better for me.  I have friends who have come to me for services whom I know can’t afford to, and I that humbles me.  I reciprocate as I can, am compelled to do so, and am just so stinkin’ blessed to be able to try to give to them in a way that shows how much I love them.

My husband.  I can’t even start with him, as he is a shield in my life, and the ballast in my continual wave-tossed ship, and there are not enough descriptive words in the world to describe what he is in my life and my heart. My family, well, there is none like them.  We have traversed this thing for so long, they keep it real for me and let me know when I need to check myself.

These are what healthy relationships look like, and I can’t take credit.  God blessed me with wise and caring people who were willing to hang in when others bailed.  I cannot express how much better the journey is with a select few than alone.  So if you are thinking you don’t want to put in the work to find stability and balance in your life, consider the reward of healthy relationships that is waiting for you.  This is one of the biggest rewards that make life with mental illness worth living.

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.

 

 

Lessons from the Farm

My most recent, past, work experience has been two years spent working as the Human Resources Coordinator in a correctional prison setting.  It was an experience unlike any other I have ever had, and it challenged me in more areas than I could ever have imagined.

When I resigned, on my last day of work, I gave a little goodbye speech, and mentioned that I knew the first week I worked I was going to hate the job.  That is very much the truth.  I knew right away the position as it had been presented to me was not exactly as presented.  I may have a doctorate, but it is decidedly NOT in accounting, and much of the position involved processing payroll and all that goes along with that process. My background is in organizational leadership psychology, the OTHER side of human resources that works on developing and empowering staff, working to eliminate turn over and employee resistance to change.

I can tell you that the powers that were, were not interested in the side of human resources I came from.  Even now I marvel at the nearsightedness of the leadership in that organization. I was continually told to “work” on morale.  But here is the thing about morale…

it exists in an intrinsic state, meaning it is intangible and is different for each person.  Yes you can hit on generalities that impact morale one way or another, but morale is largely contingent on how and individual interprets and feels about a situation.  Prisons by and large have huge issues with turnover, so morale thrown about as the answer to a problem when, in fact low morale is a side effect of a bigger issue, is ignorant and should not be present in top level leadership.

The phrase continually thrown about by leadership was, “Do we do what we say we do.”  The longer I was there the more I came to seriously detest that phrase, because it did not apply to anything consequential.

Lesson 1:  We do NOT do what we say we do, or low morale and turnover would have been addressed in a manner that actually encouraged staff and let them know they mattered to the organization.

What I learned?  I learned to endeavor to be authentic in what I do and to remember that people are what matter.  They are not commodities that are interchangeable.

I was sitting at a table in Cheyenne with lots of important people discussing the processes involved in training and hiring.  I mentioned a particular process that was being given way to much credit in the hiring process and mentioned that while it was a good measure of a certain period of time, it could not represent a good assessment of the individual.  The instrument was not being used correctly.  One of the individuals leading the forum pointed out to me, in a manner indicating I had no place to question, the instrument had been created by “all kinds of qualified individuals as well as academics, even…”

“Doctors?”  I finished the sentence for her and continued, “Yes I’m well aware who develops these instruments, as I have been trained to do so as well.  I’m questioning the use, not the integrity of the instrument.”  At that point one of the other staff said, “I think Dr. Noonan is probably the only person here qualified to assess the instrument.”

In the time I was with the organization, I was never asked to use any of my advanced skills.  I volunteered, was willing to do anything to try to make things better for my staff, but my knowledge base was never tapped, and I saw that happen with people across the organization.  It was as if leadership was threatened by having diverse and knowledgeable staff, yet that is the kind of staff they like to hire.

Lesson 2:  The abilities you bring with you will not be developed, and if you attempt to think outside of the box, the box will be flattened, and you will be categorically dismissed as a viable option for advancement in the organization.

What did I learn?  This was a tough one.  I learned I must not look at other people and places to validate the work I have done, because they may very likely discount me or be so threatened by what I have worked for, I will be considered a trouble maker and not considered for promotions.  I learned I must define my abilities and grow myself.

I have never loved a group of work colleagues as much as I love the people out at the Farm.  I did everything in my power to make things better for them, to protect them in their jobs, and to help them in areas where they were suffering.  Leaving was very difficult in the sense that I felt I was abandoning them.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was no savior, but I felt very responsible for their well being at work.  It just got to a place were I was being pulled too many directions, my mental health was deteriorating rapidly, and I had been asked to represent a side of a an issue with an employee I felt was a breach of my ethics both in my professional status and my personal code.

At some point you have to really face the “beat them or join them” mentality.  I was faced with either joining in on something I felt was unethical and implemented by the ego-maniacal with support from pure cowardice, or quit.  There really was no way to beat them, as the structure is corrupt from the top down.  Everyone wants to wash their hands of a situation and say, “Not mine.”  No one ever wanted to stand up and say, “This is wrong.  This should not be happening, and I refuse to budge on this, no matter the cost.”  I guess in a way they did me a favor, because I had no qualms about my stance in the situation.  My resignation was a definite period on the end of a too long, drawn out a sentence, but I made my reasons for leaving very clear.

Lesson 3:  It is impossible to truly support the unethical with ethics.  People become passive aggressive in situations where they have no recourse, and passive aggression is not good, because it perpetuates deception, lying, and manipulation.

What did I learn?  I learned that even when I’m in a place where I’m suicidal on a regular basis, fighting for, well, my life really, I’m still capable of drawing lines in the sand for things I know are not right.  It’s often ugly.  I’m not especially graceful at it, but I will do it when I know I must.

Working in Corrections is a thankless job and so very difficult.  The culture is really, truly dark.  But if you have a prison in your community, do not mistreat and badmouth those who work there.  For one thing, they are the reason you can sleep at night without worrying about inmates running amuck.  Another reason, is that they are the back line of law enforcement.  Yeah, I know things happen and not everyone is interested in operating with ethics in all levels of an organization.  I get it, but we need to show those who work such jobs that we appreciate their commitment, because I can tell you first hand they are not well treated by the organization that employs them, and we should be thankful someone is willing to work in those facilities!

I learned lessons at the Farm that broadened my scope of understanding of a culture that is very private and closed off from society at large.  Part of the way inmates are kept in line and part of the way staff are kept in line is the “need to know” mentality where very little information is given.  If you keep people in the dark, for the most part they will make few waves, because they are stumbling about, unable to see what is going on.  I also believe that the culture is extremely reactive rather than pro-active.  That is dangerous in any culture, because people are not prepared, and things that could be avoided with prudent planning are simply not addressed until the aftermath.

Now that I am no longer employed in the correctional setting, the walls of the culture have closed back in over themselves, leaving me standing on the outside.  There is so much I cannot talk about that happens in prison culture, and I suspect it’s not just about keeping what is confidential, confidential.  It is also very much about what I heard staff mention many times, “The community hates us,” and I would agree that communities do not like having prisons within view, but the employees there make it safe.  It is important to support the staff at prisons, encourage them to be involved in the community as accepted members, and let them know they are appreciated.

So I guess that is the 4th lesson I learned.  I learned to pay attention to cultures and systems that are different to my own and to always be cognizant of the fact that people need to be accepted and part of a community even if where they work is not especially applauded by the community at large.  We all play a role in life; in our communities; in our homes.  I don’t ever want to be the reason someone else struggled to succeed in any of those areas, and now having been there, I am especially aware of this in the correctional setting.

 

Madeleine L’Engle, Icons and Idols, and Carrier Fisher

I am a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle.  I prefer her nonfiction to her fiction and have read her books over and over in past years.  Currently, I am rereading “Penguins and Golden Calves.”  This is one of my favs of hers, because it addresses the differences between icons and idols.

An icon is something that is a reminder of something else.  It is like a bookmark in a book on a certain section you do not want to forget.  When you look at an icon you can be transported back to a place in time.  An icon can be a reminder of something else that you hold dear.  My wedding band is an icon for me, for when I look at it, I am reminded of a moment when my husband proposed to me, but it is also a reminder to me of the love we share and the promise I made to him to always consider him when making decisions.  This is a difficult thing for me, as I was single for many years before I met him, so the symbol is important to me.

An idol is something altogether different.  An idol often starts out as an icon, but then obsession takes hold, and suddenly that which was a reminder of something we valued becomes more important than that what it was put in place to help us remember.  An idol is dangerous because we can waste time and energy on something that takes us so far away from the reality of our own lives and who we are that we become lost in, not living, but in existing for the thing we are idolizing.  Sometimes it is a person.  Sometimes it is money.  But more often it is less obvious and, as such, more dangerous.

I find it fortuitous, my reading Madeleine’s book at this time.

If you have been involved in my writing or have been on my Live Mental page, you will know I am a fan of Carrie Fisher.  She has been an icon for me about having longevity with major mental illness.  She constantly reinvented herself and her life over the years, and she was always very candid about her battle with mental illness and, by extension, drug addiction.

When she passed away, I was quite sad.  I felt like I had a kindred spirit in her; someone who has traversed this dangerous road of mental illness ahead of me.  She was inspiration for me to keep going at times when I have felt I was all alone in the dark of this living black night, and suddenly, she was gone.

When Carrie died, I confess I was relieved her death was a result of something normal, a heart attack.  When I say normal I am quantifying with natural causes vs. suicide or drug overdose.  I could rest in the fact that she ran her race, and though it was still early days, she had had a very full and vibrant life, conquering her demons as they came.

You most likely know that the toxicology report came back to reveal drugs in Carrie’s system, and not the kind you use to legally and effectively control bipolar disorder.  I was really heartbroken.  I was a little surprised at the impact the new information had on me.  I felt betrayed.  How could she do such a thing!  She had been clean for so long, as far as anyone knew, and now the focus will shift from her valiant experience with mental illness where her heart just finally gave out, to her death potentially being impacted by drugs in her system.

It seemed sordid to me, and I just really wanted my icon to have died from natural causes.  I realized this morning, as I was reading Madeleine, Carrie Fisher had been an icon for me, representing the hope that it is possible to live a long life with bipolar disorder and die of causes not related to the illness.  Nothing wrong with that, but what I realized was that I made her a bit of an idol in my life.  An idol can garner worship.  That is where obsession factors in, and when I become consumed with the grief of a person’s passing, whom I never knew, and angry with her because of her choices before her death, I have crossed a line from reminder into something unhealthy.

Carrie Fisher started out as an icon of hope for me and ended up an idol I was holding responsible for letting me down.  Not good.  But seeing it is all it takes for me to reconcile the difference.  I can be sad that she, in fact, struggled with drug addiction all the way up until her death.  She did not conquer it.  But she was human, and there are many things we do not ever manage to conquer in this life.

Life is about finding balance and knowing what it feels like so that when we do go to one extreme or another for a time, we can recognize it, make an adjustment, and get back to balance, because it is a familiar place to us.  Icons help with that transition.  For me, they remind me of what is valuable.  I have many physical icons in my world.  I have a rock my friend, Lynn, gave me during a time where I was under so much stress I was collapsing both physically and mentally.  It is a symbol of the tangible being, because it is so solid, and it is an icon of a person’s ability to care about another person enough to give as a means of alleviating pain.  I have many icons that are reminders of people who are no longer with me, and I have icons that remind me of things I have achieved so that when I am doubting myself, I can look at them and remember I have made accomplishments.

I cannot recall ever intentionally embracing and idol in my life.  I have not found any healthy reason to do so, but that does not mean I have not idolized.  I know that slowly, subtly, some things have become idols in my life.  But my test is always, “If I were asked to, could I, would I give this up?”  If my answer is, “No!” I have a problem.  It is rare I have struggled violently to give up something I have made an idol, but it has happened.

Do you have icons or idols in your life?  Next time you find yourself overreacting to something ask yourself, “Is this an icon, or is this and idol?”  Icons promote health.  Idols promote decay, and I’m grateful to have both Madeleine L’Engle and Carrie Fisher as icons, contributing to MY health.

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