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Archive for the ‘Balance’ Category

I’m manic, no doubt about it.  After almost two weeks down (some of it pretty rough, but nowhere as bad as it often has been), six days ago I came up – and I have come too far up.  I’ve been missing a lot of sleep, but I’ve not been irritable, not making big errors in judgment, not spending too much money. I’ve been feeling good, having a good time at work, being very productive.  Let’s call it a manic-depression 4 – significantly expanded.

When I’m manic, expanded, the work is grounding.  Here’s one way I worked on that this morning.  i was at my Sunday morning ecstatic dance, having a great time.  And something happened there which sometimes tends to happen when I’m manic: I started to smile – big smile, big shit-eating grin that just stayed there for a minute or two at a time.  i was just that happy, that benevolent, that much liking myself and the other people around me.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

So what’s the problem, right?  Well the problem has to do with being ungrounded, with getting too high.  This ecstatic state (and yes, it is ecstatic dance) can kind of blow the top of my head off, can be too dizzy – it doesn’t get integrated.  But this morning I came up with a strategy that worked pretty well: I focused on my feet on the floor.  This created a wonderful little energy loop – a connection between my head (where my smile was) and my feet, my high energy and some groundedness.  This made me trust the smiling happiness more – and made me realize that it was tending before to have a little out-of-control quality, even a little scary.  This groundedness allowed me to move in and out of dancing with other people in a kind of seamless way – enjoying their energy, their dancing, without losing track of mine.

So I was grateful for the smiling, which tends to not happen much when I’m depressed – and grateful for the grounding, which tends to more come out of my depressed state.  It was a genuine complex healing state (see the page above) – a real state of relative balance even though I was still mostly manic.  It was sweet, precious – and to be savored.  Tomorrow I may be depressed, but I still had this.  It was real – actually more real because it was grounded, less in my head.

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On Sunday, March 2, another poet (Tracey Schmidt) and I are offering a poetry concert here in Asheville.  For me, it brings together light and dark and finally offers healing.   Below are one of my darker poems and one of my lighter ones (neither will be featured in this particular show.  Here’s the link to the Facebook event page for the concert: https://www.facebook.com/events/1432431080323647/.

White

I went to the beach this morning
Caked with the dirt of my life
And of my ancestors.
The gray sky reflected
The despair of my soul.
The beach was covered with fresh snow
All its detail and edge cloaked
In a mantle of brilliant color
Or lack of color
Unimaginably bright in this dark time.
I quietly slipped under the snow
And wore it home.

With my poetry partner Tracey Schmidt

With my poetry partner Tracey Schmidt

Dancing In the Supermarket Parking Lot

My friend is late to meet me
In the Ingles parking lot
Neil Young, on my new-to-me CD
Is rocking “Cowgirl in the Sand”
12 minutes worth
On my 7-speaker car stereo
The early spring, early evening
Blazes light
And the lot is filled with space

And I just gotta dance

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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.

Sometimes I can't find anything to do but to contract; other times, with a lot of effort, I can extend out.

Sometimes I can’t find anything to do but to contract; other times, with a lot of effort, I can extend out.

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.

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There was a time when I had no awareness of when I was getting manic – I just knew that I felt good, so bring it on!  Over time, I have become sensitized to more and more subtle cues that I am “getting high” – and I know that it has lots of risks.  Mania has some genuine gifts – as does depression – but the more ungrounded you get, the more risk of errors in judgement (spending too much money, starting unrealistic projects, etc.), interpersonal damage and the inevitable crash.  So grounding is key: how to keep your feet on the ground when the adrenaline starts to surge.

When you've been really low, all you want to do is to come up. Keeping your feet on the ground is both a skillset and a discipline.

When you’ve been really low, all you want to do is to come up. Keeping your feet on the ground is both a skill set and a discipline.

There are many strategies for grounding, from sitting and walking meditation to gardening.  I’ve tried lots of them, with more or less success.  Some, like walking/swimming/dancing, psychotherapy and talking with my friends are just part of how I regularly operate.

But I’ve got a new one: getting sick!  A couple of weeks ago, I came out of about two weeks of being down and started to come up.  Day 1 of being not depressed looked pretty balanced – call it a 6 (Peaceful State) on my Mania-Depression Scale.  But knowing the way my energy state tends to swing, I was watchful.  Then on Day 2, two things happened: I started to tip into mania (call it a 5, “slightly expanded”) and I came down with a cold.  And getting sick grounded me!  It turned out to be a nasty cold, which went on for ten days, getting worse for the first seven or so.  My up cycle lasted about eight of those ten days.

During those eight days, I frequently said to friends things like: “I physically feel like crap, but I’m not manic.  I’m not depressed and I clearly have tipped into the up end of the continuum.  My spirits are good, but I’m not speedy.  All in all, getting sick has not been a bad trade-off. ”

It felt great to not be emotionally down, but being physically down kept me from getting high - which itself felt pretty good.

It felt great to not be emotionally down, but being physically down kept me from getting high – which itself felt pretty good.

What’s the takeaway from this?  “Don’t try this at home?”  My current lesson from it is: Life is always working on me.  It’s trying to get me balanced.  It will use whatever strategies it can to teach me how to stay grounded when I am high and how to pull myself up to the surface when I am low.  I don’t want to use getting sick as a regular strategy for dealing with mania, but with a little luck I have integrated some subtle balancing capacity – or moved the needle a degree or two.  I’ll keep getting opportunities to practice grounding myself and hopefully I’ll have some muscle memory of what it was like here to be not depressed, but not high.

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It’s been a complex day – a day where I have inhabited a complex healing state.  You can read more about my concept of complex healing states in the page (tab) at the top of the blog, but in short they are states where up and down co-exist.  Today I started out depressed (have been for over a week): I had a very hard time getting out of bed and wasted an hour trying to be asleep – getting up an hour later than the 7 a.m. when I like to start my day.  This left me in a foul mood.  My biochemistry has not left that zone.  My mood is still down.  I’m liable to wake up tomorrow in as bad a mood as I was this morning.

But several things have gone on to make my day more complex – things that would not usually happen when I’m down.

  • I spent an hour on the phone with my friend Byron.  We do this every week, splitting the time and giving each other very good listening.  This often lifts my mood, but mostly did not today.  What was exceptional for me was that, as I laid out my fairly ambitious work agenda for the afternoon, I committed myself – more than achieving my goals – to loving myself as I did my work.
On one call, I committed to loving myself regardless of accomplishments. On the next call I practiced it.

On one call, I committed to loving myself regardless of accomplishments. On the next call I practiced it.

  • My afternoon did not go as I planned.  A friend who has been in a florid manic state called shortly after I got off the phone with Byron and kept me tied up for almost an hour. And I felt very unsuccessful in my attempts to ground her.  When I got off the phone, I spent another hour digging up resources for her (she’s in another state) and sending her a couple of long emails.  This threw my agenda way off – and somehow another hour evaporated.  But I told myself that all this is part of being a resource for people with bipolar disorder – and was not off my mission.  And I genuinely care about this person.  I was not accomplishing my original goals, but I was accomplishing my higher goal – I was loving myself.
  • I went for two good walks.  Now that’s something that I’m capable of doing when I’m down, though I have been doing it much less since my dog died four weeks ago.  That’s also been part of me not getting up in the morning: “What’s there to get up for?”  Going for the walks was nonetheless not so unusual.

    What was unusual was this: I genuinely appreciated the afternoon sky.  Granted it was pretty remarkably beautiful.  But when I’m as depressed as I have been today, I don’t appreciate beauty.  I don’t enjoy music – even music that in a better mood I totally rock with.  I don’t like visual art – museums and galleries are a waste of time.  And I don’t appreciate nature – even great skies.  But today I did.  I bet it had something to do with my earlier commitment to love myself and then loving myself right in the middle of my goals for the afternoon falling apart.

Appreciating a beautiful sky may seem like a no-brainer, but when you are depressed this kind of beauty can feel like one more assault: "I'm so messed up that I can't even appreciate this."

Appreciating a beautiful sky may seem like a no-brainer, but when you are depressed this kind of beauty can feel like one more assault: “I’m so messed up that I can’t even appreciate this.”

So a base of depressed, but several things that don’t usually happen when I’m depressed.  I’ve created a new rating on my Mania-Depression Scale (page at the top of the blog) to reflect this kind of state: 6 CHS (Complex Healing State). Six is right in the middle of this 11-point scale.  I call a regular 6 “Peaceful”.  I don’t call it “Balanced”, because a 6 CHS – which definitely is not peaceful – is also a kind of balance, holding within it light and dark, up and down.

I believe that this state is powerfully healing – maybe even more so than a “Peaceful” state.  It is the place where up and down learn from each other, stop warring against each other.  It works to reduce the wild fluctuation of up and down, because the two poles are not polarizing – they are integrating.

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I maintain that our healing through bipolar disorder happens not as much from mood stability (which is a manifestation of the healing, not a cause), from finding a happy medium between the ups and downs, as from bipolar integration – getting the two poles to integrate with each other, to communicate, to mix it up, so that we can harvest the gifts of each state.  Last week for several days I inhabited a complex healing state – in which i was in some ways clearly down, yet also encouraged about my writing.  And when I’m encouraged about my writing, I’m encouraged about my life.  So it was not as much fun a being up, but in some ways I believe more healing.  Then over the weekend, i came up out of being down, had a couple of days that I seemed simply, wonderfully balanced and a couple other days that I was clearly running high.  I crashed again Monday night – partly from having gotten high and missed sleep, partly from having used caffeine, sugar, and way too much other sweeteners.

So since Monday night I’ve been pretty down – and, however, once more I’ve been inhabiting these creative complex healing states.  Last week the mixture came from being encouraged about my writing.  This week some of that has been present, but there have also been some other elements that have complicated the depression.  Tuesday i was in a state that was pure biochemical, physical contraction, physically down without any affective down – no discouragement, no negative self-talk.  I’ve had this happen before.  Frequently in the past, my first day of being down was like this.  It was only later that the negative affect kicked in.  Once, about four years ago, I went through a whole 7-day downswing that was like this – never did negative affect kick in.  This to me is both testimony to the biochemical nature of so much of my depression and also testimony that the core of depression, at least for me, is not mood change but physical contraction – with the mood change being a result and an aftermath to that..

One kind of balance is a state where you are neither depressed nor manic - but another is one where some down elements and some up elements balance each other out.

One kind of balance is a state where you are neither depressed nor manic – but another is one where some down elements and some up elements balance each other out.

Wednesday i was clearly down – prone to some self-critical, nihilistic voices in the morning. But the thing that was wonderfully mixed was that, as I spent a day at my desk attending to business affairs (emails, etc.), I was content – even pleased – with some relatively modest accomplishments.  On a down day, where I would usually be critical of everything i did, I took some small bits of progress and felt happy about them.

Yesterday, i was definitely, clearly down – and yet made a decision to do some very forward-looking things. Yes, it was my birthday and that helped to make the day special, helped me to be more committed to making it a good day.  But I did – I focused on my vision for the new year.  I did some good writing for this blog (yesterday’s post and one to come tomorrow).  It was a fertile, mixed day..

Today, I started the day very clearly down – ruminating, criticizing every little step.  And I’ve taken a stance against this ruminating self-criticism.  I’ll make this into a separate post.

So more up and down together.  I call them complex healing states.  You could also call them complex feeling states – which is just as good as a description.  My friend Tony Godwin referred to the phenomenon as partly down, but also bringing some tenderness to it – which is a wonderful description.

Part of the mixture in the separate days has included some encouragement on a down day.  And the very presence of these mixed days is encouraging.  It’s not as much fun as being up – but it is, for me, a sign that deeper healing is happening.

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My weekend held a series of errors in judgment, which comprised poor self-care around my bipolar disorder – and were set in motion by a slip around my food addiction.

I have known for some time that peanut butter is a problem food for me, a food that I am prone to eating compulsively – and sometimes outright bingeing on.  I have written about this twice in this blog.  But I recently gave up gluten, when about the fourth person suggested this might help with depression.  I actually took her advice to also get off dairy, a commitment on which I have since reneged.  Bread and cheese have been such staples in my diet that I rationalized that I needed to add peanut butter – a quick and easy source of protein – back into my diet.  What was I thinking?  How much evidence do I need that it is a problem food for me?  How great is my capacity for denial?

So I took a jar of peanut butter with me on a weekend trip to see my son, daughter-in-law, and new grandbaby.  I love my son madly – and I know that he loves me deeply, but our relationship can sometimes get tricky – so it’s extra important that I take good care of myself when I go there, do everything I can to stay centered and grounded.  If you’re already smelling trouble here, you’re right

After taking the peanut butter on the trip, my second error in judgment happened at Starbucks Saturday morning.  I had some time to kill before the kids wanted me to come over (on the weekend, when the baby goes down for her first nap they nap also), so I took my laptop to the wireless internet at Starbucks.  Probably even going there was an error in judgment.  I don’t drink coffee – I know that, as someone who is trying to manage his moods, caffeine is a really bad substance for me.  And i don’t even do decaf – it has always seemed like a lame substitute for the real stuff.  I also (aside from periodic slips or extended lapses) don’t do sugar, which is also problematic for someone trying to mange their mood.  I tell myself that other sweeteners with a lower glycemic index (how fast they metabolize in the body) are not a problem.  But it’s hard to make a case that the 7 packs of honey it took to get my bitter grande decaf sweet enough for me was completely harmless.  But i did it – actually it not once crossed my conscious mind that this was an awful lot of sweet stuff.  More denial.

Honey probably is relatively harmless compared with sugar - and I'm not ready to take it out of my diet - but 7 packs of honey is a lot of sweetener.

Honey probably is relatively harmless compared with sugar – and I’m not ready to take it out of my diet – but 7 packs of honey is a lot of sweetener.

We had a great day.  That night, the chicken took a long time to cook and we ate pretty late.  I ate kind of a lot (it was very good) – right up to the edge of overeating, or maybe a little over.  I was very full.  Then, since it was already pretty late, I went back to my hotel room.  The beginnings of my trouble back there was my Zing bar.  I know that those energy bars are very sweet, but I somehow had managed to convince myself that it made sense to buy one – after previously swearing off them – at the gym, after a swim earlier in the week.  The blueberries I had had for dessert at my son’s house were really very good, and I was already quite full – but there was this candy bar calling to me, so I ate it.

My Zing  bar was sweetened with agave and did have protein, but it was awful sweet - for me it was a candy bar.

My Zing bar was sweetened with agave and did have protein, but it was awful sweet – for me it was a candy bar.

I guess that just opened the flood gates, because for some reason I then got into the peanut butter – really into it.  I was still eating it as I walked it down the hotel hall to find a garbage can to dump it in.  That night my stomach tossed around all night and I didn’t sleep well – and woke up early.

The next morning it was back to the Starbucks for internet – and another grande decaf, with another 7 packages of honey.  My son and daughter-in-law know a lot about my struggles with mood and I had over the weekend recruited their judgment about whether I was cycling high, which I had been concerned about on Thursday.  We all kept agreeing that I seemed pretty level.  But that morning  (or almost noon, the appointed time to arrive at their house) I observed to my son, “Wow, I’m pretty chatty today.  It does seem like I’m cycling kind of high.  I think it’s the lack of sleep.”  (The honey still didn’t cross my mind.)

A little while later, I had a tense encounter with my son.  Perhaps the most telltale sign that I was revving high was that I made very little of it, and –  when my time to leave came before the tension had been fully dispersed – I gave it no thought the rest of the day.  This even though the next day it seemed pretty significant, enough so that I want to make a point of apologizing to him.  Carrying some unconscious tension from this certainly did not help my growing mania.

When I left for the 7-hour drive home at 2 p.m, the genuine caffeinated coffee that I had at Starbucks was not an impulse move.  I had told them of my plan.  When they offered to make me some coffee, I said, “No, if I’m going to break down and have real coffee, I want it to be Starbucks.”  And still, as I was announcing this decision, I at no point thought this was maybe a bad idea.  Let me state it again: I don’t do caffeine.  It had been many months – maybe a year – since I had had any.  I was already describing myself as cycling high.  What was I thinking?

Here’s where I think my food addict – with all the denial that goes with that – intersects with poor management of my moods.  I had, during the last week, been outlining a blog post on strategies for staying grounded – lots of very positive ideas, which I was actively practicing and which are very valuable, and which I am still going to write up.  But I may need to add some don’ts: If you want to get good sleep to keep from cycling high, don’t overeat before going to bed.  Don’t consume 7 packs of honey.  Don’t have caffeine.

So I went to Starbucks and – thinking I was being very disciplined – had only half caffeine in my 16 oz grande.  The French Roast bold blend in my half-caf part (my request) made the coffee even more bitter than the decaf had been earlier that morning, so 7 packs of honey didn’t get it sweet enough.  Rather than go back and ask for two more packs of honey, I grabbed two packs of “Raw” sugar.  Let me say it again – I don’t do sugar.  It had been several weeks since I had had any.  And still it did not cross my mind that I was making a mistake – let alone being flat-out out of control.  What was I thinking?

For someone who hasn't had caffeine for a year, 8 oz. of French Roast is a lot of caffeine.  Then there's the honey and the sugar - and I'm trying to stay grounded?  Sometimes mania has a mind of its own.

For someone who hasn’t had caffeine for a year, 8 oz. of French Roast is a lot of caffeine. Then there’s the honey and the sugar – and I’m trying to stay grounded? Sometimes mania has a mind of its own.

The trip home was uneventful.  I never identified myself as revving high, though looking back some  signs were there.  That night I actually slept well and long (7 hours).  The next morning, I did identify myself as revving a little high..  By mid-day I had a bad case of stomach cramps.  All afternoon I went back and forth as to whether I was manic or sliding towards depression.  (Being bipolar, it’s so easy to obsess over the signs – which way is my mood heading?)  By late evening, I had chills and fever, stomach cramps – and I was depressed.  Was I getting sick?  Maybe, but I think it was the over-eating, the lack of sleep, the honey and coffee and sugar – and mania.  Crashing from all of that can explain a lot – and gets me out of denial.

I had stomach cramps all night and didn’t sleep well.  Today I have stomach cramps, feel lousy – like the flu – and am depressed.  Maybe it’s the flu, but there’s no real learning in all of that.  The real learning for me is to keep working my Overeaters Anonymous program and to remember some absolute basics for self-care around my moods: no overeating before bed, no sugar, no big doses of “innocent” sweeteners, no caffeine.  All my positive, pro-active strategies for staying grounded are wonderful, but if I don’t mind the basics they don’t have a chance.

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