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Archive for the ‘Complex healing state’ 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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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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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’ve been using the term “complex healing state” to refer to a state where some of what is usually part of our down, depressed state mixes in with some of what usually is part of our manic or up state.  They all get mixed in together, which is so unlike the polarizing that they usually do with each other, that it is genuinely healing.  It’s where the real healing happens with bipolar disorder.  My friend Tony Godwin is encouraging me to call these states “paradoxical healing states”.  I like both terms, but tonight “paradoxical” really works for me – things coming together that seem like they shouldn’t come together.

Paradox - sometimes things show up where it seems they don't belong.

Paradox – sometimes things show up where it seems they don’t belong.

Sometimes a complex healing state happens from pure coexistence – where I spend the whole day maybe depressed in many ways, but also for example encouraged about my writing – which doesn’t usually happen when I’m depressed.  Tonight, it was not so much them coexisting as something happening late in the day that seemed like it shouldn’t happen on a day like today.  I had a bunch of days of complex healing states last week, but this week has been more down than that – not as much mixing, more just solid depressed.  Yesterday was like that.  It was not a socially isolated day, but it was internally a very isolated day: I had several extended interactions with people, but the contact I had with them couldn’t carry through beyond the boundaries of our visit.

Last night I went dancing – Asheville Movement Collective ecstatic dancing (see the page at the top of the blog).  Most of the afternoon I felt too depressed to go.  But I had been energized by a call shortly before going, so I had some limited hopefulness.  I had spent the day depressed enough that it was more likely that I would have a bummer dance – the kind of dances that frequently I have been leaving.  And it looked like it might go that way.  As the regular dance started, I really started to sag.  My body couldn’t respond to the music, I was feeling more and more isolated – was psychologically leaving, was picturing myself really leaving, and might have.  It was at that exact moment that my friend Forrest came over, planted the side of  his head against the side of my head, and got us moving together.  I don’t know what moved him to do this.  When I asked him after the dance if he had picked up the signals that I was in trouble, he said no, just that it was his intuition to do this.  He just felt moved and he moved.

Did Forrest somehow know I was in trouble?  Not consciously, apparently - but something moved him to come over and dance with me.

Did Forrest somehow know I was in trouble? Not consciously, apparently – but something moved him to come over and dance with me.

That was the turning point for me – it got me back in the dance.  I then went through several cycles of starting to lose it, my mood going south, feeling like I was dropping out of the dance – and then someone presenting themselves to dance.  Two of these dances were with young Kristin, whom I had never met before.  She was a wondrous dancer, with way more energy than I – especially in this particular low-energy state – but I rose to the occasion and pretty much kept up with her.  We had two terrific, fun, very alive dances.

So it was a paradoxical experience for sure – a day when this should not have happened.  In spite of some instances of social connection, the overriding theme of the day had been personal disconnection.  I came very close to not going to the dance at all.  It was totally unexpected to have so many magical connections on the dance floor.  It was a day when my body was dense and contracted; it was very unexpected for my body to get so loose and expressive.

When I came  home from the dance, was I happy?  I would say I was relieved. I would say I was grateful.  It had been a few days since I had a complex healing state – much less feeling good.  So, at the tail end of my day, that it got so complicated – so much more complex – is paradoxical and pretty wonderful.

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