Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “organizing”

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.



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.

The Picture Brain

It seems I have been preaching the need to know self my whole lifetime, and maybe so. For there is such a need for us to know how we function and why, especially for those who deal with major mental illness.

I recently had a friend ask me if I fall on the autism spectrum.  It was not the first time I have been asked that.  One mental health issue often blends in with another, and I do have autistic components to how I process concepts.  I was able to more clearly explain to her what this facet of my bipolar brain is like than I have in the past, and I felt that I had breached a wall in doing so.

I think that for those of us who have major mental illness, it is valuable to try to put into words what it is like in the very different workings of our  brains for those who care about us.  It is one of the important ways in which we can build bridges between us and those who do not suffer with mental illness, yet suffer along with us as part of being in our lives.

I process in images.  I am extremely literary and articulate, but when my brain processes concepts and information, it does it by attaching that information to an image.  So, if  I am learning a new method and am listening on a phone, let’s say, to the instruction on how to do, I may at some point look at the plant sitting on my desk.  My brain takes a snap shot of that plant and attaches it to the new process I am learning on the phone.  The next time I need to use that new process, I may have taken notes, but the ability to assimilate my notes with real time processing, occurs when I recall that plant and the image triggers my mind to understand  and remember how to assimilate that particular process.

The problem occurs when I am learning new information,taking notes, and my brain does not take a snap shot.  If I am under stress, that often happens.  My mind is overloaded with the malfunctioning proliferation stress causes, and it will not supply an image to attach the new process to in order to recall how to understand what I need to do the next time I must use it.

In my twenties, I would never have understood that I recall this way.  It is possible that I had better functionality in my early twenties, but with many years of mental illness, it may be that my brain has had to make other arrangements in order to accommodate the demands I place on it.

Regardless the reason, I realized, as I explained my process to my friend, that I must slow down when I am learning new things.  I don’t care what it is called.  I just know that in order to perform at an optimum, I must allow my mind time and space to snap shot new processes so that I can recall them more easily down the road.

Knowing is leaps and bounds to conquering.

Untangling the Mess



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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