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Archive for the ‘Bipolar disorder’ 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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I have given the name “complex healing states” to states that have some of the qualities of up and down.  A complex healing state is different from a psychiatric “mixed state”, which combines some of the toxic symptoms of up and down.  Here the difficult symptoms of one of the poles is combined with one of the positive gifts of the other side, e.g. something encouraging may happen when you are down – when it never usually would happen.  Most of psychiatry is solely focused on symptoms and does not recognize that mania and depression each hold gifts to be harvested.  More on complex healing states is in the page/tab at the top of the blog.

Complex healing states are healing fundamentally because they get the two sides mixing it up – up and down learning from each other, rather than polarizing from each other.  But additionally, they are healing because they say they are.  It’s actually a little more complicated than that.

You don't have to feel good to be healing - you just need to take your down state and make it more complex.

You don’t have to feel good to be healing – you just need to take your down state and make it more complex.

When someone is really depressed, they may genuinely believe that nothing helps.  I’m a prime example: when I am deeply depressed, one of my mantras has been “nothing helps and nothing matters”.  So when someone says “Why don’t you go for a walk?”, the answer of someone in a state like that is likely to be, “Tried it – didn’t work.” And that answer can come to all manner of interventions that seem like they might help.   You don’t believe they’re going to help, so you’re liable to not do them.

If however your goal is not to feel better, but just to make things more complex, then you’re liable to try it – because there’s not just a chance of succeeding, there’s almost a guarantee of succeeding.  If you do something that tends to sit on the up polarity – if you walk the dog, if you write, if you call a friend, you have just made your state more complex.  And if you are either taking on faith that complex healing states are good, or if it seems intuitively plausible to you that they are good, or if you have already had the experience of them being good for you, then when you create a complex state – when you take a down state and make it complex – you get encouraged.  Because you are doing something that you believe can help.  And guess what, being encouraged helps – right there, things start to shift.

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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’m running speedy today.  I’m hesitating to call myself manic, because there has been so much exciting stimulation in my life over the last couple of days that someone without bipolar disorder would probably be overstimulated and ungrounded.  But I’m calling myself a 4 – significantly expanded – on my Mania-Depression Scale, and there is the genuine risk of me getting manic.  The scales have tipped from the depressive end of the things and I need to let go of the tools I use to manage depression (seeking out extra stimulation, etc.) and bring in all my strategies for grounding (including somewhat reducing my stimulation, making sure to get enough sleep, etc).  A little bit ago, I laid out on the grass in the sun, one of the most powerful techniques I know for getting grounded.  Now, feel my butt in the chair, my feet on the floor, and breathe.  Let me take a moment to do these things.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I'm ramping up again - time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I’m ramping up again – time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

(A minute later)  OK, I’m back.  It wouldn’t have hurt to do that longer, but this post is just wanting to write itself and I feel a need to capture it while it’s hot.  Getting it out will also be grounding.

My life has had several sources of exciting stimulation over the last 48 hours.  Wednesday afternoon, I previewed my 17-minute speech on bipolar disorder (my story – parallel to, but not quite the same as the”My bipolar journey” page at the top of this blog) for my performer/writing coach friend Nina Hart.  It was my first time since writing this piece two months ago to perform it for another person and was very exciting.  I had been manic when I wrote it and – even though it seemed to hold up while I was down – I never totally trust a creative piece I have produced when I’m up.

But Nina adored it – and had some excellent suggestions for how to improve it.  (Her most significant suggestion was, “You are so grippingly honest through the whole piece, then right at the end – when you bring the story into the present, how you are now – your integrity slips a little.  You paint your current situation more rosy than I think it is.  Your story will be less  powerful if you don’t stay equally honest right through to the end.”  Great feedback.  I knew she was right – and will make the changes tomorrow.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it's very freeing.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it’s very freeing.

I had a job interview yesterday about a job I’m enthused about.  This writing – and the public speaking, teaching and consulting about bipolar disorder that I see coming out of this – is my real work, but I also right now need an artist’s day job.  I think this job may be it, and I’m excited about it.

But more exciting than either of these was a gig I played last night.  Another piece of writing I produced when I was manic was a 6-minute piece of stand-up comedy I wrote four months ago.  When I crashed a couple of weeks later, I didn’t think it was any good.  Oh, I wrote this all up on a post that went up here on September 15 – so I’ll save the rest of that story.  You can go back and read it if you like.

Anyway, I performed this piece at church on September 15.  The title of the sermon was “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”  My piece, which i originally intended to be a sweet poem about the innocence of childhood – inspired by new grandbaby – under the influence of mania came out as this kind of wild comedic ride that I titled, “It’s never too late to have a screwed-up childhood.”  I thought it was strictly all for laughs, but I came to realize after I performed it that getting people laughing about the whole happy childhood/unhappy childhood dichotomy can be a therapeutic act.  Those of us who actually did have a screwed-up childhood may especially profit from the chance to laugh about all that.

So I was asked to reprise this piece at a benefit in a music club last night. I hired a video guy to capture it on videotape: I have a vision of it going up on a website that will help me promote my public speaking/teaching/consulting around bipolar disorder.  This would show my lighter side.

So I had a lot riding on this last night.  And it was a little intimidating playing a club, when most of my other performances have been in the cozy confines of my church.  Big crowds in my church – 200-300 people per service – but they know me and love my poetry.  These would be mostly strangers.

I'm playing a club!  Wow!

I’m playing a club! Wow!

When I first got up there, I was shocked by the stage lights: I couldn’t see the audience!  I had forgotten that this would be the case.  I usually rely on a lot of eye contact – I work the room.  And at first it wasn’t clear how well the crowd would respond.  They were there for music and here we were inserting spoken word near the end of the evening, right before the headliner band.  When I look at the video, I look a little physically frozen – my right arm mostly never moves.  But the crowd did warm up, I did find my rhythm and I finally had a lot of fun.

And the video came out really good.  You can view it on You Tube at

Enjoy.

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