My new psychiatrist recently said something that I have been saying for a while (which makes him look smarter to me :)): “Bipolar disorder is not a mood disorder, but an energy disorder. We go through cycles of expansion and contraction.” My central depressive symptom is a painful contraction, like each cell is in a vice. Sometimes the mood change lags behind by a couple of days – once it never happened at all, just seven days of painful contraction …no sadness or discouragement or nasty self-talk, nuthin’.
So when I am depressed – contracted – like today, Mania-depression 8 (“definite physical contraction”) sometimes the best treatment is anything that helps me to extend. Expansion may be too big a stretch, but if i can reach out, push out, lean into life – anything that can get me back out from being curled up into a little ball.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m.: not quite enough sleep, having gotten to bed at 11:30, but I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so I knew that what I needed to do was to extend – get up – but instead I contracted back into the bed, trying/pretending to be asleep and just making myself miserable. Finally, at the last possible time, I extended by getting up and going to dance (Asheville Movement Collective ecstatic dancing – see the page at the top). I had to really push to get there on time.
Then, on the dance floor, I was confronted with a big blank canvas for painting contraction or extension. (Sometimes extending left me expanded, but it continues to feel useful to make the distinction. Extending is the effort to push out of contraction. Expansion is what happens when it works.) Some of the time I pulled in on myself. But some of the time I extended. I extended my energy and my body – moving vigorously through the space. I extended towards other dancers – moving in and out of their space, dancing around them. This is more complex: that other dancer can respond in a variety of ways. In one instance, she danced away sooner than I would have wished. In another, I finally moved away because I couldn’t handle how open she seemed.
Overall, I was very confronted with all my issues about moving towards other dancers – all my insecurities, my mental trips about “Do they want me?” And today that felt very productive. Whereas another I day I might have just said, “I’m depressed, I’m contracted and I’m having a terrible time”, today I said, “I’m confronting some of my trickiest interpersonal issues.” That seemed workable, important, valuable.
After dance, I completed the second part of my extending commitment for the morning – going to church. Over the last year, I have been doing a lot of pulling away from this community – which has at times past been very important to me. Sometimes I have been critiquing the church, sometimes I have just said that I hate going there when I’m depressed. Today I said, “This place pushes all my buttons around belonging.” This is such a more useful way to think about it. It’s also a place where I like/care about/love a lot of people – and they feel this for me. If it also stirs the pot, gets me to work on my key issues, why would I not want to be there? When I’m up, I love being there. When I’m down, it’s an opportunity to practice extending.