Archive for the ‘Recovery’ Category

Community Solutions WNC is a group of independent citizens who are working to partner with other individuals, community groups and local leadership to bring the National Dialogue on Mental Health to Buncombe County in the Winter and Spring of 2014 and we need your help!

Join us on Thursday, October 24th, from 5:30-7:30pm at the Mother Bear Headquarters (65 Hill Street Asheville, North Carolina) to learn more about local plans for community dialogues and how you and your community can get involved in bringing these important conversations to Asheville and surrounding areas!

Please feel free to forward this to friends and neighbors or anyone you may know who might want to be a part of the exciting initiative to build community and work together to identify and respond to local mental health and recovery needs.

For more information, please email communitysolutionswnc@gmail.com or visit www.communitysolutionswnc.org or call 828-351-4113

It will give Americans a chance to learn more about mental health issues – from each other and from research. People who participate in these community conversations will determine if mental health is an important issue for their community and will discuss issues related to the mental health of young people.  They also will decide how they might take action to improve mental health in their families, schools, and communities. A number of the community conversations, convened by local mayors, will be supported by leaders from deliberative democracy organizations. – See more at: http://creatingcommunitysolutions.org/about#sthash.mEGcab6v.dpuf
RSVP’s appreciated to communitysolutionswnc@gmail.com.

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On my birthday last week, I created a vision for the next year of my life.  A lot of that positive vision has to do with bipolar disorder.  Last Friday I posted an entry on my personal healing through bipolar disorder in the next year.  Here I will share some elements of my vision for the blog this year.

  • Even though the blog is currently read by only a few people, I continue to honor and invest energy in it as if it was being read by many.  If one person with bipolar disorder gets help from it, that is more than worth it.  And treating it as valuable will form the basis for having it reach more people.
  • In the next year I promote the blog more – let people know about it: mental health professionals, friends and families and people with the disease.
  • By a year from now, there are many people out there who get from the blog tremendous comfort, inspiration, a sense of direction, information, and concrete tips.  It genuinely makes a difference in more and more lives.  It is the centerpiece of all of my work.
Healing.  All humans suffer from the illusion of separateness and so need healing. Our path for healing is through bipolar disorder.

Healing. All humans suffer from the illusion of separateness and so need healing. Our path for healing is through bipolar disorder.

  • In the next year, I do lots of research to deepen my understanding of bipolar disorder and the impacts it has on us – both the commonalities we have with each other and all the myriad ways we are different individuals and manifest the disease differently.  This research includes reading, attending workshops and conferences, and participating in support groups.
  • I add several additional features that make the blog an even more valuable resource.  These include a section (page) on treatments (though my eyes – treatments I have personally experienced or personally know a lot about), theories (especially my own ideas about the causes and healing of bipolar disorder – and a few others that have had a strong personal impact on me) and another page on resources (groups, books, other blogs, etc.).
  • All the writing I do on this blog – much of which is essentially memoir – supports me in finishing my memoir, which is so much about bipolar disorder.  This book, currently titled A Dark Awakening, itself helps lots of people and draws more readers to this blog.
  • Writing this blog and that memoir support my own healing and personal growth.

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I woke up today ruminating right out of the chute.  Even before I was out of bed, I was criticizing myself for sleeping in too late.  In one objective term, I had not slept in too late – I had slept in to my usual rising time, but I had been awake two hours earlier and now I was telling myself that I should have gotten up then, that I have so much writing to accomplish that I would have been way ahead of the game.  There was a good objective reason for not getting up then: I have had stomach cramps for four days and had gotten to bed kind of late – the rest would do me good.  

For my first few minutes after rising, I was immersed in an argument between these two voices.  And I caught myself – I realized how completely fruitless this argument is, and how similar it is to how I spend so much of my time.  And I decided to turn it over.  The third step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is “Made a decision to turn over my life and my will to God’s care, as I understand God.”  I don’t understand God – don’t understand Higher Power.  I’m wrestling with the whole notion.  I’m sure there’s something there – something that does, in some mysterious way, care for me.  I don’t know what it is – and I want more conscious contact with it. I don’t know if it’s out there somewhere – I’m more inclined to think that it’s in me.  

I don't know what I'm turning it over to, but I know that I am powerless over my emotions - that I can't do this myself.

I don’t know what I’m turning it over to, but I know that I am powerless over my emotions – that I can’t do this myself.

But I made a decision to turn all this ruminating, all this internal argument over to that Higher Power.  And when I turned it over, what was left was the here and now.  If I’m not ruminating about what time I got up – if I’m not ruminating about anything – it leaves me free to be in the here and now.  Free to focus on making my bed, focus on the sensations of the pillows in my hand, focus on walking down the stairs, focus on the blender in my hands.  Then another rumination pops up: should I be having a protein shake for breakfast?  What a useless conversation.  It helps me realize that this is, as Lorrie my Buddhist counselor says, practice – it just takes lots of practice.  

Lorrie encourages me to surrender to life – to focus my attention elsewhere.  The 12 Steps encourage me to turn it over to Higher Power.  My buddy Monty encourages me to pull it out of my head and take it into my body.  Alayah, the extremely wise woman with whom I have been sitting in satsang (spiritual dialogue), encourages me to trust my deeper self – to take it there.  It could be seen as me having too many outside influences coaching me, but for me there is a wonderful synergy in where they are all going.  They each fill in different pieces of the puzzle.  

So here I am, walking the dog in the woods, taping about all of this.  I’ve not shaken the rumination.  It’s going to be a process for a while yet, maybe all day and maybe on and off in many of my future days.  But in the here and now, I’m inhabiting a wonderful complex healing state – where rumination is attempting to run me, but I’ve got some leverage.  I’m practicing turning it over – imperfectly and only somewhat successfully, but I’m on the road. I’ve got a new practice.  And I’m writing – I’m sharing it with people.  It’s too early in the day to make outreach calls to my OA friends about this, which I will definitely do later on.  But I’m making an outreach call to you, my readers, and that helps.  


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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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Today Is my birthday.  I have been spending some significant time elaborating a vision for myself for the next year – itself a very positive act on a day on which, in spite of it being my birthday, I am relatively depressed.  I actually started out today more like a manic depression 9 (very contracted), but this visioning activity – and going to a very good Overeaters Anonymous meeting – have moved me to my current 8 rating (definite physical contraction).  And I again today sit in a complex healing state – with that definite physical contraction cohabiting with some positive internal elements. Very significant parts of that vision for my next year have to do with my recovery from bipolar disorder and my vision for this blog.  I’ll write about my personal healing today and about my vision for the blog in a later post.

A friend of mine is making me a gluten-free, sugar-free (agave) flourless chocolate cake for my birthday - and I know it will be scrumptious.

A friend of mine is making me a gluten-free, sugar-free (agave) flourless chocolate cake for my birthday – and I know it will be scrumptious.

First, my recovery.  My vision includes:

  • I don’t have a vision of complete recovery from bipolar disorder.  This could disappoint or upset some of my colleagues who write and teach about bipolar disorder.  Unless some new medication comes down the pike that controls the oscillation of my states from manic to depressed, my vision of healing includes that i heal through bipolar disorder rather than from it – that it is the walk I need to walk, a disease I need to manage, even if I some day get off of all meds.
  • I spend more time in what I’m calling complex healing states – states where elements of up and down coexist together, where the polarization of my manic and depressed states gets a chance to heal because the two parts of myself get a chance to know and influence each other.
  • My prevailing state shifts gradually more towards the peaceful state (md 6) on my manic depression scale.  I spend less time on the more extreme levels – further from the balanced 6 – and more time right on it.  This is supported and facilitated by all the elements that support my healing – from psychotherapy to Overeaters Anonymous, the 12 Steps and wrestling with the concept of a higher power to ecstatic dancing and all kinds of other relationships and resources that are detailed elsewhere in this blog.
Balance - the elusive state that for me is the Grail for people with bipolar disorder.

Balance – the elusive state that for me is the Grail for people with bipolar disorder.

  • Because of this healing, I am able to negotiate with my psychiatrist and to manage successfully a gradual decrease in my psychotropic meds.  I hold out the possibility that eventually I will be off them altogether, but I don’t see anything like that happening in the next year.  I don’t think it’s in the cards for everybody with bipolar disorder to get off of or even reduce their meds, but it is part of my personal vision.
  • Last night I attended my first meeting of Magnetic Minds (http://magneticminds.weebly.com/), the Asheville chapter of the national group Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (http://www.dbsalliance.org).  I liked it and intend to go back.  I visualize that this group will support my own healing, that I will be able to offer helpful support, inspiration and information to other members (partly by offering them this blog), and that the group will deepen my understanding of bipolar disorder and the impact it has on those who deal with it.
  • Writing (this blog and my memoir) supports my in my own healing through bipolar disorder.
  • This year – partly based on this blog and my memoir – I begin to do some public speaking and teaching on the topic -some volunteer through NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and progressively more for pay.  This supports me in my own healing.
  • I will continue my own reading on bipolar disorder, especially books and blogs by others with the disease, but also including scholarly and professional writing.  This will both give me more to share on the blog and support my own healing.

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On two Wednesday evenings a month, I sit in satsang (spiritual dialogue) with a very wise and loving woman named Alayah.  I always receive some comfort or inspiration or both – and last night was no exception.

The primary activity of these satsangs is “inquiry”: people will present some issue or problem they are having in their lives and Alayah will help them to inquire, to look at it more deeply.  A central subtext is always “Who are you?” – to help people probe beneath the surface appearance of the separate self to a deeper layer of oneness with all life.

Alayah is a householder - a wife and mother - who also happens to be fully awake.

Alayah is a householder – a wife and mother – who also happens to be fully awake.

A woman had just been exploring some emotional pain she had been experiencing and Alayah was encouraging her to follow the pain deeply within.  “Where is it in your body?”  Alayah was telling her that if she followed it deeply enough within, it would all dissolve into Spirit.  “When you go into your deepest self, that is where you will find God – God is nothing but who you really are.”

The woman asked Alayah, ” But what about giving my pain over to Spirit or Life?”  Alayah said, “There is a place for that, but we’re going directly to the source – the straightest path to real truth.  When you go deeply enough within, you realize that there is nothing out there that is separate from you.”

This woman had reached a point of peace with her work and Alayah surveyed the room.  “Anybody else have questions or issues?”  I was sitting right next to this woman and caught Alayah’s eye.  “I have a confusion.”  “OK, bring it on.”  “I have been involved in a 12 Step program and have been wrestling with the idea of Higher Power.  Specifically, I have been trying to practice the 3rd Step – turning over my life and my will to God’s care as I understand God.  That’s all new to me, but it feels like I have been having some success with it.”  (see yesterday’s post)

Alayah said, “That’s a totally valid way to go, but if you keep coming back to these meetings, the concept of turning things over to something or somebody outside of you will fall away.  The surest path to God is to go deep into the heart of who you really are.”  This spoke deeply to me and to the real sticking point for me with the Higher Power concept in Overeaters Anonymous (my 12 Step program).  I deeply believe that I am not in any way separate from God or Life (my preferred term).  I want to experience more sense of connection with this mysterious force that I call Life – but not as something different from me.

When I first saw this picture of this t-shirt, I knew it didn't sit right with me, but I didn't know why.

When I first saw this picture of this t-shirt, I knew it didn’t sit right with me, but I didn’t know why.

I said to Alayah, “My best buddy Monty and I have had numerous conversations over the years about the depressive emotional pain I experience.  His wish for me is to drop beneath my mind, my thinking about the pain and to go into my body.  Where do I feel the pain in my body?  And to ‘be with’ that.” Alayah smiled broadly and said, “I like the way Monty thinks.”

And at this point things really came together for me.  I sat there beaming at Alayah, drinking deeply from the pool of love in her eyes.  After some deliciously long moments, Alayah asked, “We’re sitting here looking at each other – what’s going on for you?”  I said, “I’ve gotten exactly what I needed.  I’m just sitting here with it – I don’t need any more words.”

And I had gotten exactly what I needed.  Afterwards, as I was sitting in the car waiting for my friend Lisa, who had stopped to chat with someone else, I wrote down my new current revision of the 2nd Step, changing the words “power higher than my own”: “Came to believe that a power deeper than my ego….”  With this revision – and putting my own spin on “God” in the 3rd Step the first three Steps now fully work for me.

  1. Step 1 – Admitted that I was powerless over food (or my emotions), that my life had become unmanageable.
  2. Step 2 – Came to believe that a power deeper than my ego could restore my life to sanity.
  3. Step 3 – Made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of God, as I understand God.

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In my four weeks of involvement with Overeaters Anonymous, I have struggled with the whole concept of Higher Power.  My friend Cynthia, who recruited me (or more accurately, I was knocked out by what a great place she was in and wanted what she had) had told me her accommodation to this concept: “All I’m asking of myself is that I be wrestling with the idea of a Higher Power.”  I have for a long time now said that I am non-theistic – that the concept of a God outside of me seemed to blow apart the notion of life all being one.  Whatever God might be, I had to be totally one with it.

But I have really wanted this whole 12 Step thing to work for me, and Higher Power is central to it.

  1. Step 1 – Admitted that I was powerless over food, that my life had become unmanageable.
  2. Step 2 – Came to believe that a power higher than my own could restore my life to sanity.
  3. Step 3 – Made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of God, as I understand God.

So I, like Cynthia, have been wrestling with it.  I mostly substituted Life for God and this has pretty much worked for me.  I have talked about this a lot, recruiting from others (especially those whom I suspect are kind of like-minded) what their concept of God is.  What I have been saying for me is “I don’t have a concept of a personal God – some being outside of me that takes care of me.  I believe that Life is in some way intelligent – I think there are all sorts of evidence of this.  And, in some even more mysterious way, I believe that Life is benevolent – has our own best interests at heart, keeps sending us exactly the experiences we most need for our own development.  Like I say, I believe this.  Sometimes I even, in my guts, experience it to be true.  But mostly, day-to-day, it stays a concept for me.  I tend more to live from a place of isolation – me against the world.”

I don't know what this Higher Power is, but I want to wrestle with it.

I don’t know what this Higher Power is, but I want to wrestle with it.

So, with the encouragement of the 3rd Step – “God as I understand God” – I have embraced wrestling with the concept of this God or Higher Power.  Whatever this mysterious force I call Life is, I want more felt sense of connection with it.  I want, day-to-day, to feel more fully connected to Life, more cared about, more loved – even if it is loved by some mysterious force that unites all of creation.

Sunday morning, as I was preparing to do my piece of stand-up comedy at church (see “A piece of manic comedy”, September 15 post) – and was depressed and angry – I finally, out of desperation, attempted to “turn it over”.  “Life, I don’t seem able to do anything about all this anger and depression I am feeling.  Nothing I do gets rid of it or even reduces it.  I’m turning it over to you – you take it from me.”  This is all very new stuff for me – I’m used to struggling through stuff all by myself.  But the concept of surrender to Spirit is very attractive to me and I have been looking for chances to practice.  This seemed like a great opportunity – and, like I said, I was desperate.

I'm even getting less tense around the God word.

I’m even getting less tense around the God word.

And it worked!  During my short drive to church, I kept running my mantra: “Life, please take this depression and anger from me – or at least take over this performance, so it can go OK even with me depressed and angry.” As I was walking up to church, I saw a friend of mine up ahead of me.  And something clicked: “There are so many people here that I love and that love me.  I want to give them a gift here, something that will make their day, or maybe even their week, go better.”  And that turned the tide.  I started to relax, to actually “turn it over”.  And I surrendered to my two performances, had a great time, and was totally fed by the extraordinarily positive response.  It was clear that people had, actually, gotten what they needed – that all the laughter had lightened their load.

And that something even a little deeper had gone on.  The theme for the day’s service was “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”  My manic piece of comedy was called, “It’s never too late to have a screwed-up childhood.” (see post by this name, September 15).  And somehow getting people laughing about the idea of having a screwed-up childhood had helped some people relax around the screwed-upness of their own childhood – had in some way been genuinely healing for them.  It was all tremendously satisfying.

Based on this, later in the day I rewrote the first three Steps for myself, changing only one word: I substituted the word emotions for alcohol or food.  This revision has really worked for me and has stayed very much with me over the last couple of days.

  1. Step 1 – Admitted that I was powerless over my emotions, that my life had become unmanageable.
  2. Step 2 – Came to believe that a power higher than my own could restore my life to sanity
  3. Step 3 – Made a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of God, as I understand God.

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