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Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

I had an experience yesterday that was a huge victory for hope.  A wonderful progressive political candidate in my county, for whom I had worked and to whom I was very attached – who had been written off in many circles as not having a chance against the entrenched political power of his opponent – won, and by a wide margin.  Early in the campaign, a friend who knew a whole lot about Democratic politics in this area said, “Bless your heart for working for Todd, but I’m not going to invest any energy there because he doesn’t have a chance to win.”  This lodged deep in me and I spent the rest of the campaign not expecting to win.  When, at Todd’s “celebration” party after the polls closed – which I mostly expected not to be a celebration – the word came through that his opponent had conceded, I mostly couldn’t believe my ears.  It took my breath away. Tears squirted up into my eyes.

How do you hold out hope when the odds seem to be against you?

How do you hold out hope when the odds seem to be against you?

I had given up hope.  I had continued to support my candidate – had taken election day off from work and spent the whole day at the polls – but did it out of loyalty to my friend and out of some sense of duty, without an expectation or even a hope for a positive outcome.  There was a depressive quality to all my efforts.  When i sent out broadcast emails or put up Facebook postings to get out the vote, my discouragement did not come through in my words – though some of my friends or acquaintances might say that the negative energy somehow came through.  When, at the polls, I gathered all my bright energy for the moments it took to hold out a piece of literature to a voter and say “Todd Williams needs your vote for District Attorney”, did my secret discouragement leak through?  Even though I was depressed that day (definitely not manic) I seemed to myself more energetic in those moments of engaging the voters than the other people similarly hawking their candidates.  I don’t know.

At my depression and bipolar support group last night, when we were searching for a topic, I proposed, “What are the sources of hope in your life?”  The group liked this topic and chose it.  It was generally agreed that lack of hope is perhaps the key symptom of depression – and the belief that “This too shall pass” is maybe the key antidote.

A wide variety of factors were given credit for generating hope.  Several people mentioned this very support group.  Others referred to other relationships where people are close with you, believe in you.  I mentioned that a variation of “This too shall pass” is paying attention to the fact that even in a depressed day there are moments/hours/segments that are not depressed or at least less depressed. Seeing that depression is not monolithic, that it waxes and wains, is encouraging.  (Is encouragement the same as hope?  That’s a good topic for another post.)

I said that for me creativity is a key stimulator of hope.  I’m going to save this for another post(s).

 

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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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Often in my life, I am sad about intimacy and connection that I don’t have.  It’s so much better to feel sad for a good reason.

This last weekend I visited my son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Louisville, KY for Thanksgiving.  The visit was almost perfect.  The vibe with my son was really great: he was so available and present, so warm and informal and gracious with me.  My daughter-in-law was sweet and interested in my reports about my life.  My six-month-old granddaughter was amazingly present and alive and happy.  I was relaxed and had fun.

And when I came back I got sad.  I wasn’t sad because of anything that had not happened – I was sad because it was so good…and because I had to say goodbye…and because I have so much history of saying goodbye to my son…and because it is going to be a while until I see them.

It’s been hard to sort out this abundant sad from depression, because it’s looking like depression and that may also be going on.  I had been a little up for about ten days, through the visit, and the goodbyes may have broken the back of the up mood and swung me down.  But I also have a history of coming down after visiting my son.  So I do myself a disservice if I just call this depression.  I have touched into some very sweet connection and I no longer can touch it (even though it is still there).  And I feel sad.

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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 in a tough place.  Since my dog died almost two weeks ago, I have in some ways crawled in a hole.  I’ve continued to work (actually started to work – my first day on my new job as a cashier at a healthy supermarket was the day after I put Buddy down, which was in some ways very good timing,,,to have a new beginning and something to focus my energy right then).  I’ve continued most of my self-maintenance activities – which are quite a lot by most people’s standards.  I go to therapy every week.  I do peer counseling over the phone (30 minutes each way) with my friend Byron every week.  I went to a meeting of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance the other night. I talk with my buddy Monty on the phone every week.  I talk on the phone with my friend Lynn 2-3x a week.  i swim 2-3x a week.  I dance on an average of twice a week.  I talk with my housemates – especially Tom who is an extrovert and loves to engage.  Several friends have called me since getting the word about my dog, and talking with them has been good for me.  I got a flood of condolences after I put the word on Facebook and there has been some comfort in feeling a community around me.

IMG_1957

All these extraordinary resources and support have not kept me from being in other ways quite lousy.  Before this one, I’ve written one blog post in three weeks, At the Sunday dance I was in a miserable place – tight, contracted, depressed –  mostly not even able to dance.  The same weekend Buddy was dying, I went to parts of the three-day retreat for my entrepreneurship program, where I dramatically expanded my vision for my business – but I have since (until today) done nothing to move those plans along, and that has been seriously discouraging.

And I have been staying in bed.  With Buddy, I was almost always up by 7: “Hey, I have a dog to feed and walk – let’s get going.”  Not hard, really – I naturally wake up early.  It’s rare for me to sleep past 7.  I often wake up well earlier.  When I’m on the manic side of things, I get up and at ’em.  When I’m depressed, I lay there awake, trying to be asleep, getting myself in a progressively more and more foul mood.  Until 7.

Now it has felt like there is nothing to get up for.  I have stayed in bed until 9, 10, 11, 1.  Last Saturday I woke up at 6:30, but kept going back to bed until 1.  That’s a very long time to lay there awake.  It’s a depressive thing, I know – people with depression do this.  At my depression and bipolar support group the other night, there was a whole little conversation about how many of us have done this.  But I haven’t done it for over a year.  I’ve been miserably depressed at times, but not stayed in or gone back to bed.

Today was different – and I owe a lot of it to my friend Kate.

I’ll give myself kudos for making the call.  When I got off work last night, I was in a lousy mood, so I made two calls.  I left a message for my friend Johanna – and then I reached my Milwaukee friend Kate.  Kate and I have been friends for over a dozen years.  We usually talk every few weeks and it had been about that long.  She is under a lot of family stress and was glad to first talk about that – and it felt good to provide supportive listening to my friend.

Sometimes you need help from a friend.

Sometimes you need help from a friend.

Then she turned her finely-honed, intuitive, professional counselor attention to me.  She knew and loved my Buddy – and deeply loves dogs – so she gave me great support around that.  Then, when I talked about staying in bed, several positive developments tumbled out:

  • She asked me if my local friends knew what a tough place I’m in.  I acknowledged probably not.  After I got off the phone with her, I had a talk with my roommate Tom in which I fessed up.  It felt good to do.  I had a similar conversation with my other housemate Will today.
  • I committed to get up today at 7 a.m.
  • Kate suggested that I be a good loving father to myself and take myself for a walk.  She also shared her belief that Buddy’s doggie spirit is still with me and that I should practice feeling him with me when I walk.
  • Kate knows about my entrepreneurship program: almost took it herself, and completely jumped in my shit when I got depressed and almost didn’t follow through with it.  (“It’s not right for me – but it’s totally right for you.  You need to do it.”  And she was right.)  She got me to commit that today I would spend two hours working on my plans for my business.

The commitments I made to Kate turned my day around, though not without some pretty significant wavering.  I woke at 6:45 and got myself out of the bed by 7.  But then, after a trip to the bathroom, I came back and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.  I had told Kate that I would call her when I got up (more accountability).  After a half-hour of this stupor, I texted her about what was going on.  She texted back, “This is a loving kick in the ass – GET GOING!!!”  And it worked – I went downstairs and had breakfast.

But then I spent another half-hour doing the same thing before my 9 a.m. conversation with Monty – then afterwards spent 30 minutes more sitting and staring at the desk and another 30 minutes back sitting on the side of the bed.  I was precariously close to going back to bed – “I never told her I wouldn’t go back to bed” – but I knew that if I did that my commitments to work on my business and go for a walk would be greatly at risk.  And I remembered a woman at the support group the other night who spoke very compellingly of how she reached a point where she knew she had to summon all her force and just will herself out of bed.  I felt myself tapping into her determination as I finally headed to the bathroom to shave and, at almost 11 a.m., to get dressed.

Getting down to business 11-1-13

Then I spent 90-120 minutes working on my business!  That went extremely well and left me in a really pretty good mood.  What had felt intimidating and overwhelming and discouraging – developing an 18-day email class on healing through bipolar disorder – now felt eminently doable.  I practically did a little victory dance.

Then I wrote a few emails (including one to Kate), paid a few bills, then went for that walk.  On the walk I rehearsed two poems – one that I’ll perform at Jubilee in a week and one for a big poetry concert in March.  Then I mowed the front yard lawn: the front yard was where Buddy spent most of his waking time, and this was a hurdle for me – but it went fine, felt like a success.  Now I’m writing this blog post.  In 90 minutes I’ll go dance.  At this time yesterday, I would have been pretty nervous that dance could be a lousy experience – today I’m very hopeful that I will have a good time.

Thanks Kate – and your well-timed, virtual, loving kick in the ass.

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I am depressed – an 8 (definite physical contraction) on my manic-depression scale.  And I am grieving.  And they are different.  And they tend to get all stuck together.  And I am working hard to separate them.

I crashed a week ago today, after once again being fairly manic (a 4, significantly expanded, on the md scale – see the tab at the top of this blog) for about a week.   Crashed hard.  And at the same time, my beloved dog Buddy was crashing hard – from cancer.  Looking back, I can see some signs that he was failing, but most of Thursday he was a happy little camper.  Then Friday he stopped eating and walking.  By Sunday he was peeing himself in his bed from not being able to get up and was in full liver failure – and I followed the vet’s advice to put him down before he got worse.

My Buddy

My Buddy

People who have never been really close with a dog tend not to get it why you can have a powerful grieving response to the death of an animal.  It’s a blessing to talk with someone who has been here and fully gets it.  So I am depressed and grieving – and it feels important to tease them apart.

The grieving is crisp, bright pain.  I don’t cry much these days, after earlier in my adult life being blessedly good at it.  (I had lost it during adolescence, but retrieved it when I learned peer co-counseling in my early 20’s.)  A friend told me a couple of years ago that she thinks the inability to cry is because of my psych meds.  I asked my psychiatrist after she said this and he said “Probably – the mood stabilizers smooth out your highs and lows, but can tend to muffle other feelings.  You have to decide if it’s worth the trade-offs.”  I appreciated his candor and decided, with some real regrets, that it was worth the trade-offs – at least for now.

Buddy helping me write

Buddy helping me write

But I’ve had three good cry’s over this.  The first was late Sunday afternoon, sitting next to Buddy on our deck in the waning light, an hour before taking him to the vet for the last time.  I had just taken the advice a friend gave me earlier in the afternoon to write a poem for Buddy (I write poetry).  When I tried to read it out to him, the floodgates burst.  The next two cry’s came on Monday and then Tuesday.  I’ve been grateful for them –  both because I believe that crying can be healing and because it is clear testimony that I let that little critter into my heart, I genuinely bonded with him.

By today, that good crisp pain has gotten all kind of blurred out by depression.  I am fighting to retrieve it.  I want to go to the heart of the pain, to be fully alive.  I may not, today, be able to not be depressed – but I want to be as human as I can at the same time.

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