Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “mind”

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.

 

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Complimented

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

When was the last time you complemented someone else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning and Sorting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Falling From Grace

I was sitting in the morning sun sipping my cuppa Joe when a phrase popped into my head, “…falling from grace.”  It’s kind of a catch phrase.  I have no idea why it gained clarity in the minutia of morning thoughts my brain likes to supply after a night of quiet, but I decided to take a look at it.  This is the summation of my contemplation.

Falling from grace is often associated with religion.  I’m not a fan of religion in association with my faith, because they simply do not sinc.  I do not consider religion to be in any way correlative to the walk I am on with my Yeshua (The Rescuer).  I do, however, do things religiously.  I brush my teeth religiously, take my medication religiously, kiss my husband religiously (cuz that’s just fun!).

So when I think of falling from grace I ask, “Can I fall from the grace of my Maker?”  Based on my journey with my faith for nearly 40 years, I would say that I cannot fall from the grace of Yeshua.  It has been available and all encompassing in the midst of my deepest transgressions. It is a waterfall waiting to cover me with refreshing renewal as often as I need it.

So

I am looking at falling from grace in the context of my relationships with others.  Can I fall from the grace of people?  Yes.  Can they fall from my grace?  Yes.  I have seen both.

What happens when a person falls from the grace of another person?  It has been my experience that when a person falls from grace there is no forgiveness.  We use the term grudge, in combo with how we handle people we have cast out of our lives, like it’s okay to do because we have a well-used term to define our active anger.

When we hold a grudge we haven’t really ended the relationship, have we?  We are simply holding on in anger, hoping we are punishing that person and that they will somehow grovel their way towards our mercy in hopes that maybe they can do something that will gain entrance back into our lives.

Many people feel that when a person falls from grace in their lives, they never entertain the concept of receiving them back with forgiveness.  I pity the person unwilling to forgive, I and hope they never encounter someone who views relationships in the same way they do, or at least they never become overly committed to someone just like them.

Grudges and unforgiveness are partners in crime and have no place in a healthy mind and spirit, for they twist and corrupt, leaving cynicism, bitterness, and discontent in their wake.  The impact on the person actively holding a grudge is far more destructive than on the person being held in unforgiveness.  The person who has fallen from grace can only fall so far away from the relationship and no further, but the person holding a grudge will be slowly eaten up by the upkeep and the side effects.

Grace is something we are able to extend to others when they offend us.  I know that I could walk around offended on a regular basis if I chose not to exercise grace.  It’s not that I’m so perfect and those in my life so imperfect.  In fact, I would say I am the one who needs grace more from those in my life than I need to give them.  We are human.  We are fallible.  We screw up.  We need to be able to extend grace to others in order to help them be okay with correcting their mistakes.  We need grace extended to us so that we learn from our mistakes.

As long as we are imperfect, we will need to have grace extended to us, and we will need to extend grace to others.  It does not mean we embrace them back into our lives in the capacity they once were.  Sometimes there is just no going back, but forgiveness does not require restoration of position.  Sometimes we just need to forgive someone to free ourselves, and we can allow that grace is what we implement in order to walk that process out.  I have to tell you, I have had to call on grace in the face of action, because I tend to be a very black and white person, and I have come to realize that life operates in the gray.

Does that mean I compromise my beliefs?  No.  I do not compromise what I believe to be right or wrong by extending someone grace.  Grace is the bridge between what I believe and the person needing it that allows me to love, and love is what allows forgiveness.  There are people I have forgiven who will never have access to my personal life again, but they no longer operate outside of the grace I have to offer others.  I have extended it so that I CAN forgive them, and in doing so I have been freed from anger and all those symptoms that are a part of long term resentment.

I am no expert in this area, but I hope to be before my journey in this life is over, and I hope to always be aware of the grace extended me when I do something that causes offense and hurt in others.  If you have someone who is falling from the grace you have to give others, call them back into it, and set both of you free.

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.

 

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.

Wasted on the Young?

Is youth wasted on the young?

I have a young friend who is going through a very difficult time, and I woke up with her on my mind this morning after a long conversation with her last night.  She is dealing with decisions someone her age should not have to, and I keep thinking, wondering, where the carefree days of youth have gone?

It’s ironic that I’m seeing things this way, as the current culture is hurling the concept of happiness as an entitlement into society like a shot putter, while it appears there is less actual happiness.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m getting old, but I remember, in my early twenties, driving down the road in my little yellow sports car with the sunroof open and my hair whipping in the wind as I traveled across whatever road I had chosen for the day and feeling exhilarated just to be alive.  Granted, these were the pre-bipolar days before someone turned out the lights on my understanding of “normal,” but I remember them that way.

These days, it seems young people are saddled with so much drama and adult situations, they don’t have time to just experience life and what it means to be alive, even if for just a short time.  Youth is the time to make mistakes, but to learn from them so those mistakes are not repeated later.  When you are young you must explore and use the senses to ascertain things much as a toddler does when he or she first starts walking.  How else can you learn about a whole world opened up for you if you do not make mistakes in it?

Life is so heavy.  It is so encumbered with making huge decisions at such a young age when it should really be about discovery.  It should be about turning away from mistakes and heading into another direction, down a different road.

My heart hurts for my friend.  I have no way to fix things, and I know she it beaten up over something that began as a simple mistake and has now impacted life in what seems an endless montage of painful, complicated moments.

So back to my question.  Is youth wasted on the young?  It is generally stated rather than asked, and it is a really sad statement, as I believe that it is the job of those who are no longer in their youth, like me, to remind those who are still young just what youth is.  I believe youth is wasted on the young when the young are not taught how to fully embrace it.  And maybe it’s not up to parents to teach this.  Maybe it’s about society doing this part.  After all, if you define this statement within the context of young people out of high school, then it becomes the role of those who are on the scene during the young adult years.  Employers, teachers, and people who are older who come in contact with the young and begin associations despite the age gap.

I have been most blessed to be a part of this young lady’s life I have been referencing, and I have no doubt she will rebound from what she is dealing with, walking through the fire a little singed, wiping off the ashes and soot as she walks away from what is still burning. But I hope she retains her resilience, and I hope she does not give up on her enjoyment of the little things in life that are really most recognized in youth, and I truly desire that she maintains her transparency.

I remember a statement made in the movie “Where the Heart Is”, Willy Jack Pickens says to Novalee (I may be paraphrasing a bit), “Sometimes you tell a lie so big it changes your whole life.”  It may not be lies we tell to others. Sometimes the big lies, we tell ourselves, and they change everything.  It is important in our youth to cultivate authenticity and transparency with ourselves, and if we do so, we will be much more likely to perpetuate this practice with others.

We must teach this and reinforce it to those in their youth.  I am not working to solve my young friend’s problem.  She is fully capable of moving through it with a little encouragement from those of us in her life who have survived the bombs that go off in the road.  What I am most pressed to reinforce to her is that no matter what life throws at her, she must have an understanding of who she is, and that involves being honest in the arena that only she sees. She is only beginning to really know who she is, and as life continues to hone and shape her, will become more and more dimensional and complex as a person and as a woman.

I believe those of us who are older must invest in those who are younger in a way that encourages them to experience life but in a way that does not completely destroy their youth.  We must teach that the most valuable thing about being young is the true essences of the person who is growing and learning from what he or she is experiencing.

It is not the experience itself, or even the choices in the experience that matter most.  It is not even about the outcome of the experience.  It is about the person and the growing of the individual in a way that invests in stamina, development, authenticity, and contribution.  I will do whatever I can to reinforce these things in my friend. This is what matters, and youth is not wasted on the young when they are taught to truly experience 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.

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.

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