Ramblings on Madness

I lived a lot of my life on 4 hours or less of sleep, for weeks on end. I would go months in a hypomanic binge, then crash into depression and force of will myself to keep over functioning. High school was bad, college was a mess. I got through because I’m fucking smart, and good at taking notes, remembering lectures, taking tests, and charismatic and personable so if I needed extra help I could get it. I also took a degree in something I am both passionate about and good at, so when I needed to coast I could, but I didn’t need to coast very often. And I only had a couple of panic attacks so who’s counting. The nightmares about failing were just part of college, right?

After college though… I floundered about, jobless except for teaching and freelancing, for four years. Playing competitive video games to take the edge off.

Then I went crazy. It’s better now.

though I do kind of miss it sometimes

The endless energy.
I got So. Much. Done.

People marvel at me now? I got nothing on 20 year old me in terms of productivity. I took 18-21 hours every semester of undergrad, graduated with a 3.998 (fuck you too, piano performance grade) and still was a competitive athlete. Worked two internships or went to school over the summers. But the depression was so bad when it WOULD hit. Weeks getting out of bed only because I couldn’t bear to write my professors and tell them I wasn’t coming to class. (Which I felt I owed them. Probably a coping thing. If I had to tell someone I wasn’t going, I had to say out loud that I was depressed.)

It’s kind of amazing I survived

No, it’s not worth it or healthy. But it was a high. A fun one. I could do anything I set my mind to. I’m dumber now, and slower. I have a more mature wit, but the meds dull me noticeably. The trade off is that I’m not cripplingly suicidal, in an institution, dead, homeless, jobless. I have a savings account and a small financial safety net. I put money into a 401K. I don’t have panic attacks anymore, or at least not very often.

So it’s worth it. I have to keep telling myself that. It’s worth it. My life is worth it. I’m a reasonably functional adult, with a high stress job, a high stress unpaid second job, a hobby that demands creativity and competence, two cats, an apartment. Bills that I pay on time.

But I feel it every time I go pick up a refill.

Every time I get a new pharmacy tech, and she looks at my rap sheet and patiently counts out the 3-5 bottles, depending on what needs refilling. Asks me if I have any questions about my meds. Asked me every refill last year if I was sure I wanted the one that costs more than my rent every month, without insurance.

Nah, I’m okay. It’ll be fine. I want to say.

It’s like a backwards sort of addiction. My mind remembers the highs of not being on the meds. Sings siren songs about how I don’t need them. How much writing I could get done. How I’d be fearless in the face of D&D improvisation. Knit an entire lace shawl in 4 days. (It conveniently leaves out how bad the depression gets. Siren songs are only good when they’re about the deepest desires of your heart, after all.)

How many people do you know that have bipolar that take the meds for awhile, only to decide they’re “better” now? It’s super common, almost to the point of being part of the pathology of bipolar, because it cycles, for people to take the meds until they even out, declare themselves better, and stop taking their meds. And they do okay for awhile, and then they crash again. Lather, rinse, repeat. My doctor won’t let me go more than 3 months without seeing me, just to help reinforce that I need to take the meds. Same with my therapist, who double checks that I’m still taking my meds every few weeks.

I’m not crazy anymore, but there are mornings where I can see it from here.

My life now is sitting here, fully caught up on my work at my paying job, AND having written so far almost 1800 words before 11am, and wondering if I just got a little close to the fire-in-the-head, or if I should be stepping away to meditate, to slow my brain down, to maybe take something to take the edge off the drive to be writing. Is it productivity or hypomania? Is it a creative spark or hypographia? Does it even matter?

I’m not crazy anymore, but there are mornings where I can see it from here.

Anxiety Hunger Trick

I have major issues with anxiety sometimes. Often, when I get really anxious, I am repulsed by food and don’t want to eat.

This is a major issue if I am lifting heavy, since I want to build muscle, and that requires calories and protein every day.

Last night I got home from work and the anxiety settled on my shoulders like a blanket, and I couldn’t stand the thought of food, even though I’d only eaten about 1500 calories so far that day. I know I need more food than that, but it was just gross to think about eating. I mentioned this on a weightlifting group I’m in, and they suggested I try having some pure sugar – just a spoonful of honey or a sugar cube – and waiting 15-20 minutes to see if I felt like eating.

I figured it couldn’t hurt. I mean – it’s honey. Either it would do nothing, or I might feel better. And sure enough, I felt better – and hungry – after about 15 minutes. I probably ate half a tablespoon of honey or so, not a whole lot, and then within 15 minutes I felt like I could handle some food. So I made myself a chicken quesadilla (since SSH had already eaten by then), and felt MUCH better.

So if you’re ever in a mind space where you know you need to eat something, but are not really able to convince yourself to eat, try giving your body just a little bit of sugar. I’m not sure WHY it works, but it sure did work for me.

Rewriting my inner narrative for 2014

Putting this below a cut, so you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to – this is me talking about, thinking about, and deciding to retell the narrative I have about my body. If you are uncomfortable about bodies, or are triggered by discussions of weight, restrictive eating, or other related topics, you may want to skip this post.

Continue reading “Rewriting my inner narrative for 2014”

Skills and Stress

As evidenced by a high blood pressure reading at my most recent doctors appointment(s), I’m stressed. This is nothing a) new or b) abnormal, especially with a job in a corporate office. I’m working on my stress-relieving/coping skills, and finding that they’re pretty limited.

I take showers. (This is not very good for the environment, and I feel a little guilty about taking wanton showers that I don’t need, but it DOES help me de-stress)

I go for walks. (When it’s not dark. And when my joints cooperate. Also, I need new shoes.)

I try to meditate. (I’ve been learning various kinds of mindfulness meditation for the last year and a half, though I’m admittedly not very good at it. Still, focused breathing, even if I can’t get to focused, non attached thinking, helps)

But I kinda need some more tools in the box. When I’m really anxious, eating a snack helps, but that doesn’t really help with stress – and depending on the availability of gluten free snacks, can be a stressor instead of a de-stressor.

I’m open to trying some new things to help me manage this. So what do you do to manage stress?

Big Bad Binary Brain

My brain is really excellent at binary thinking.

Given any situation, I will come up with two answers, one of which is complete failure (resulting in failure) and one of which is unattainable perfection (resulting in failure). Therefore if I choose either column, I fail, and am therefore subject to more mental berating.

If I attempt to choose another, more moderate option, I am berated for not being good enough to try for the perfect. There is elaborately cooked, time intensive dinner, or there is failure. There is compulsively clean, 100% taken care of house, or there is failure. There is 100% kindness to everyone all the time, or there is failure.

It’s a kind of twisted perfectionism that I’ve spent most of my life perfecting, it seems. (I should mention that even if I come up with something I initially think is good, my brain will pick holes in it until it looks like every other failure, even if I’ve accomplished something. It’s … kind of sick.)

Nowhere is this better illustrated than with exercise.

With exercise, there is either “exercise until exhaustion” and “nothing”. Compound this with my joint disorder, whereby I can’t do things like lift weights (because my joints go squishywibble and won’t work properly, so I can’t even get my muscles engaged) or run (impact is bad, yo) or really most “normal” exercise, and there are two options. Do nothing, or walk until you can’t feel your knees and then go lift weights anyway, even though it makes you feel awful for two days.

There are two kinds of exercise I mostly tolerate (verging on enjoyment) – biking and yoga. I’m not allowed to bike because of the pressure it puts on my wrists (which, plus my hands, are the only joints that hurt on an everyday basis anymore). I just bought a new bike in October. Failure. I’m not supposed to do yoga for the same reasons.

But Anna, yoga has infinite variations and modifications! Why not do one of those?

Because so far I can’t. Well, physically I could. Mentally I must either do the full version of the pose, or I might as well not bother because I’m a failure anyway. This is compounded by my relative ease with kinesthetic adventures like yoga and dance, which I learn quickly. I’m also naturally extremely flexible, so I have never really done modified poses. I am still adjusting to this new way of living in my body. (Also, let’s not even get into being fatter.) Doing a modified version anyway, in a sort of “fuck you, brain” only results in having to listen to myself for the rest of the day.

To be honest, I feel a lot of sympathy with Gollum.

It’s all extremely unkind, and difficult to live with a lot of the time too. There are entire days when I wish my brain would just SHUT UP and GO AWAY. I’ve tried asking it why I only have these two options, but the answer isn’t fit to type.

I fight against this every day, some days with more success than others. Some days the crazy is just too loud, and I don’t really function beyond going through enough of the motions to not get fired. Recently the crazy has been very loud, and so I’m not getting much done. It’s too much work to try to deal with it, to try not to resist, but to … not accept. Just… allow it to exist and do whatever I need to anyway?

My awesome therapist says that “What we resist persists” – the more mental energy I throw at resisting and arguing with the crazy, the more it pushes back. Instead, I’m supposed to say “ok, I appreciate that you feel that way” and do whatever else anyway. (I know it sounds crazy, but somehow this works better than the alternatives.)

It’s very draining, just doing everyday stuff.

I’m trying really hard to “work on it”, but its hard to change something that seems built in, if that makes any sense. Meditation helps, as do naps. Journaling helps when I manage to do it without automatically setting myself up to fail at it. (How you fail at journaling, I’m not sure, but I manage.)

Today I managed 8 hours of work, plus 3 sets of pushups and squats and a set of “hang on the pull up bar and think really hard about it” (I can’t do pull ups). I’ll put something together for dinner – probably out of the freezer (maybe tamales). After dinner I will sit on the floor and attempt to get my brain to slow down for awhile.

And that’s going to have to be enough.

Self Acceptance

Lots of self-help and counseling programs talk about the value of self acceptance. To be honest, it’s a concept I’m only just beginning to understand.

It’s hard to “love yourself” when you don’t feel very lovable. I was talking about it with my mom though, and she said something that made me kind of re-think the whole self-love thing. That maybe it wasn’t about finding yourself lovable with all the crap that’s going on, but finding yourself worthy of being loved for your human-ness. It’s not about accepting all the shit in your life, but accepting that you’re a human being, and that you’ll deal with it as best you can, and you are worth accepting yourself for that.

I really struggle with this whole idea, even down to having a mental battle when I do things to “take care of myself” (like going to the gym). I’m hoping that reframing it a bit will help with the immense motivation it takes to do the self-care things I need to do to stay healthy. Maybe instead of seeing self-acceptance as “I have to think I’m awesome” (which I can’t do most of the time), I can see it as “I can accept my humanity” will help change some of the ingrained thoughts and beliefs that are so very very very hard to shake.