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.

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?

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.

Traumas and Blog Prompts

One of the things that NaNoBlogThing does for its members is provide the occasional prompt for a post. Like most collections of blogging prompts, these are usually benign creativity boosters and story prompts to help out someone that gets stuck in writer’s block. But there was one that came up recently that didn’t sit well with me; it seems to be lacking in forethought:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.

I understand that trauma happens on a spectrum, and that the person involved can dramatically change the perspective on an event (as can the care that person receives in the immediate aftermath of trauma). Some people who experience life-threatening car accidents go on to recover both physically and mentally and can, after a time, drive again safely and without panic or anxiety. Others aren’t able to heal to that point and can sometimes not even ride in a car without experiencing panic attacks.

Trauma is just so PERSONAL.

PTSD is weird, and “Describe the scenes surrounding an event” is something I can’t even do (yet) in scheduled, structured therapy. Looking at the prompt, my immediate reaction is “Well THAT’S not going to happen.” And I can’t imagine that I’m the only NaBloPostThinger writer that lives with PTSD and it’s related mental health issues.

I understand that this post isn’t really talking about “that” kind of trauma, but really, there isn’t another kind. All traumas require healing – and there’s no way to look up what counts as traumatic (beyond a the actual definition of trauma itself). Different things bother different people on various levels, so a post that one person thinks is pretty benign (about a car accident) can be completely triggering for another.

Even suggesting a post about a traumatic event that you have healed from or that helped you to grow in some way would be better than the open ended “anything traumatic”. Otherwise, from a psychological standpoint, it has the potential to open up a lot of really ugly emotional stuff, without having a way to process or effectively deal with those emotions. For real, just writing out the sequence of events (factually and as chronologically as possible), let alone describing entire scenes, can be almost impossible to do for someone with PTSD. It’s a real mindfuck sometimes.

While I don’t for a minute think that the prompt was intended to be discomforting, a blog prompt that suggests the emotionally invested discussion of traumatic events just seems really out of place in a list that also includes “What kind of music do you listen to when you write?” and “Do you prefer to write with a pen or a computer?”

One of these things is not like the other ones, you know?

Blogging Mindfully

If I blogger deletes a post draft, can they still learn from it?

One of the bits of guidance often given to new meditators, particularly those working through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or, like me, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that whenever you feel the urge to talk to someone about meditation, you should shut up and go meditate.

Which makes for really lousy blog posts.

But I think the spirit of that advice is that it’s better to be mindful and meditate than it is to talk about it. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking more about meditation than actually DOING meditation.

That said, I think there’s something gained from reflection as well. (This is not me arguing with Dr. Kabat-Zinn. This is me being a blogger and liking expressing thoughts in writing.)

I’m not very good at meditating though. In the last year that I’ve been working through this therapy and mental-process-adjustment, I’ve not attained any sort of amazing breakthroughs. In fact, about the only thing I’ve attained is better awareness of how my brain works – watching your thoughts can be a pretty amazing experience, especially when you deal with TraumaBrain and other vestiges of mental illness.

That awareness DOES help with self-compassion though. It’s a learning process, and my mental judge is … extremely vocal. And not keen on shutting up. But slowly through the meditation practice (and it is a practice), I’ve learned to be at least aware of my self-judgment more than I used to be, and being aware of that mental voice lets me be more kind to myself about how my brain functions.

It’s all about little victories, and small steps in the right direction. I’ve had to work on accepting wherever I am on a given day, accepting what kind of focus I have or don’t have, and just being mindful and kind in this moment. The Gurus say there’s no such thing as bad meditation – only today’s meditation. I’m still working on taking their word for it.

And really, meditation is not easy, but it’s also so very simple it’s frustrating how hard it can be. (That’s a confusing sentence.)

I really encourage giving it a try though, just for a few minutes, if you find yourself in a stressful situation. Ok, WHEN you find yourself in a stressful situation.

Try the following (done easily in a desk chair, in the parking lot, in the bathroom, wherever):

Stop what you’re doing, sit back comfortably (straight spine, but not forced), and take three slow, deep breaths. With each breath think to yourself “Breathing in, I see myself at peace” and “Breathing out, I am relaxed” – that’ll give your mind something to chew on while the oxygen gets to your brain and slows down your central nervous system.

I keep a post it note on my computer that says “Stop. Breathe. Be here now.” to help me remember to ground myself in this present moment and slow down. Bad and stressful things are usually related to worry about the future or fretting about the past – very rarely is there a problem in THIS exact moment. (Even, or especially, worry about money. For the next 2 minutes, you can let go of worries about money.)

Even just little snippets of meditation, little snippets of being truly HERE in the present moment, can make a big difference. You’ll slow down your nerves, be more alert and refreshed, and be better able to handle the stresses of life. Think of them as fun-size Mindful Moments – just the right size for a mid-day stress-relieving mental snack.

And now, since I’ve talked the talk for 650 words or so on the subject of meditation, it’s time for me to go walk the walk.

Or sit the sit, as the case may be.