Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “wellness”

What It “Looks” Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Complimented

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

When was the last time you complemented someone else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning and Sorting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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