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After four weeks of progressively more brutal “depression” – mostly meaning painful physical contraction – I surfaced on Wednesday and had three wonderful days of just feeling good. Then this morning the physical contraction was back and I feared that I was starting to crash again. My little four-hour work shift as a cashier at Earth Fare was tremendously therapeutic today: it was so engaged, so fast-paced that it distracted me from physical pain. And, since there was nothing wrong with my mood, I mostly had a good time.

I got myself to Howard’s roast last night and for the first 90 minutes had a really good time: the roasters (“purifiers”) were extremely funny and I laughed a lot. I think it was from being in an audience – not “keeping myself going” – that the physical pain came back with a vengeance and continued to build as I left early and as I made it home. The pain I am feeling in this moment feels worse than anything life dished out in those four weeks – and some of that was quite bad.

8-10-19 - contraction

“Depression” as actually very painful whole-body physical contraction: Saturday night, 8/10/19, 11 p.m. at Monika’s house where I am house sitting.

I really want to attend Howard’s last service at 11:15 tomorrow. I feel like – after 15 years of pretty committed membership in this “spiritual community” (not to utter the dreaded “church” word), I owe it to myself and also to Howard. But based on how I’m feeling right now, it feels like a long shot – even though I know from experience that staying in bed will cause the pain to grow.

I will keep the ringer on my phone on, and – if someone were inspired to give me some very informal phone coaching between 7:30 and 9 (encouraging, pushing me, beating me around the head and shoulders), that might get me going. There’s a very real possibility that I would give lip service over the phone – maybe even momentarily believe that I am going to get going – then crawl back into bed. It would be miraculous if someone were to feel inspired to come over to Oteen/East Asheville to pull me out of bed and shove me out the door. You wouldn’t need to go to Jubilee unless you felt moved to do so.

I feel threatened about the rest of the day, when I have nothing scheduled but some loosy-goosy plans to go grocery shopping and shit. The rest of the week is not much more reassuring, because corporate has cut our store’s hours again and I am working only 12 hours instead of my negotiated 24. Busy is good for me right now. There are a couple of kinds of volunteering I want to be doing – but getting going on those may also require some phone counseling/cheerleading.

Thanks for any way you can support me right now (828-582-9822):

  • read this
  • send me responses to this
  • go with me to lunch
  • sit with me in Monika’s wonderful backyard – with or without a beer
    – walk on the beautiful Mountain-to-Sea trail (two minutes from our back yard to get on it. (until the end of September!)
  • -talk with me about my philosophy of customer service and my mission at Earth Fare
    – go to a coffee shop or restaurant together (keeping expenses pretty minimum)

Better now

Two nights ago, Tuesday night, I had two 30 minute naps – each punctuated by a bizarre, disturbing dream that woke me up.  Then, around 1 in the morning, I got up and just stayed up.

I was coming off four weeks of being depressed – more grimly so each week.  I knew that, according to my personal statistics, I was due to shift up any time – but there was hanging out there the specter of the winter, when I was depressed for four months, progressively retreated to my bed and was finally hospitalized when it seemed I was on the razor’s edge of taking my life.

In the last few months, a new personal pattern for me is that the night before my energy is about to shift up again, I am unable to sleep all night.  So Wednesday morning I carried hope that my cruel biochemistry was about to lift me out of the depths of depressive pain.  But the other, even more telltale sign of finally coming up for air, is that the contracted pain throughout my whole body that is the most central symptom of my depression, goes away – totally.  Poof, I suddenly don’t hurt.  But Wednesday morning I still had the pain, so I didn’t know what was going on – what I could hope for.  But the pain did finally let up and go completely away Wednesday afternoon and I have clearly moved into a manic episode.

with Jenn G 2-12-17

Performing with Jenn Garret at Jubilee a poem we had written together – a real natural high, life at its fullest.

Mania has, for me over the last few years, become a very positive state.

walk3

Walking a mile in her shoes – the annual charity walk from Our Voice.  Each year of my three walks I have worn different shoes (“A girl’s gotta have shoes”), but these red pumps that I rented from Asheville Community Theater fit me great and were, I think, really me.  It was hard to give them back. 

It doesn’t cycle way up high – doesn’t go out of control.  I don’t spend a lot of money (mostly never did – once bought nine pairs of nice socks on sale, but that was the most extravagant I ever got).  I no longer start big, ambitious, unrealistic projects that there is no hope of me ever bringing to fruition – especially when totally non-functional depression inevitably follows the mania.  I sometimes surprise almost everybody’s expectations of this too-nice guy by telling off or cussing out some jerk who is totally begging for it.  I don’t suffer fools gladly.  I really like this part of it.  Mardi Gras

Today, the day after coming up to breathe, my dear friend Amanda Graves was asking me about the previous weekend – which had been totally lost to bed, despair and isolation, easily the worst two days of the whole four weeks.

“So you had no work, nothing to keep you up.  You were totally incapable of reaching out to your friends.  Would it have helped if we had reached out to you?”  (I had made a lunch date with her and then cancelled it.)

“Absolutely – even if I might have resisted that reaching out.  Remember the previous Sunday, when – even though we had definite plans to go to the Tall Tales Isis concert with my friends Joan D’Entremont, Al Schlimm and Chris Rosser Sunday night – I told you in no uncertain terms that I had avoided Jubilee that morning and would be going back to bed by 7 and skipping the concert that night.  Because you were right there in front of me, you were able to beat me around the head and shoulders and get me to go – and I ended up having a real nice time.  When I was bopping all around the table in perfect time with the very upbeat music, you said ‘You don’t look very depressed now.’”

Now that I’m up and again wonderfully extroverted, I will naturally find great ways to connect with people.  Two days ago I told Lauren Fortuna that I could not provide a poetry “gift” at a Jubilee Sunday service because I had no inspiration and that – even after 15 years of a lot of commitment to Jubilee – I was liable to not get it together to go to Howard’s roast on Saturday night or final service on Sunday morning.  Now I know that I will go to both of those very festive, life-affirming events and will get back to Lauren about the poetry gift – which poem has not appeared yet, but I now trust will manifest itself.

How long will I continue to feel good?  A couple of months ago, after about two months down, I had an up cycle that lasted five days.  That seemed cruelly unfair.  But I have some reason to hope that I will be on the right side of the dirt for 2-3 weeks.

I hope to spend some wonderful time with many of you in these weeks – and maybe make some plans for how we can stay connected when I again lose the capacity to reach out to you.

Suffering

I’m suffering. The core symptom of depression for me is physical contraction, painful tightness throughout my whole body as if every cell is in a vice.  Mood change sometimes follows this lead symptom – maybe 2-4 days later, sometimes not at all.  But is the discouragement a side-effect of experiencing so much pain?

This is my third week of depression/contraction, with the pain building steadily each day.  Not as much pain as some people experience – and with many of them (I think of a friend my age at church who has very painful back problems) it is genuinely chronic, there is no respite – whereas I know that inevitably (hopefully soon) I will get a few days or a couple of weeks respite.  The surest sign that my energy has turned up (“manic”) is that the contracted pain is reliably, totally, instantly gone – poof!  Sometimes long before I get speedy – if I do at all.

Psychiatrists and psychotherapists typically don’t know what I’m talking about when I relate this – they have never heard of it or read about it in their journals.  I went through a long period where I no longer talked about it because I had grown discouraged about mental health professionals understanding me.  I have encountered some other folks with bipolar disorder who recognized this phenomenon and said that they too experienced it – but maybe never before put it in words because they never heard anyone else put it into words.

Today, as I walked the Mountain-to-Sea Trail behind Monika’s house with little Pancho, my body was so tight that I had trouble walking.

But I’m not sad or discouraged.  I am as happy and encouraged about the direction of my life as I have been for the last several weeks:

  • I am really happy to have my job back at Earth Fare.  I don’t enjoy every minute – or even necessarily most of the minutes.  But I enjoy a lot of them – and that’s enough.  In some of those minutes I feel like I am living out my mission to make grocery shopping creative and fun, to validate the customers who come through my line, and to influence the younger cashiers in these directions.
  • I am thrilled to be liberating myself from Battery Park Apartments.  A very bright and resourceful friend told me the other day that, after a year there, it really is working for her – and for some people it really does.  But it was not working for me.  I had to move through some powerful inner resistance to get clear on just how bad it was for me – largely by being high-rise apartments and downtown – but I did finally get clear and within three weeks of that final clarity, by virtue of Monika’s generous offer for house-sitting, have extricated myself from it.  I’m on the ground, one doorway away from the outdoors, surrounded by trees. With a little luck, I will move into my long-term digs straight from here and never again sleep on the fifth floor – so far removed from the ground (which for this airy, ungrounded guy is a big deal).
  • I am very excited to be moving in with Tom Kilby, my all-time favorite roommate, and his wonderful son Ian.  Tom KAfter negotiating some details over a number of days, we just finally got to a solid “yes” yesterday, and today the three of us gathered at the house in Candler to continue our dialogue about what it means to live together.  So much open conversation right up front bodes well.
  • Robert had told me he didn’t know if his Wi-Fi would reach the patio out back, but just a couple hours ago – having purchased a l-o-n-g extension cord – I discovered that it does!  This means that – after a year of being imprisoned in an apartment with windows that open 3 inches – for the next two months I can spend most of my laptop time outside.

So I’m in a lot of physical pain that makes it hard to get up in the morning and hard to resist the call of the bed (let me get unconscious/escape the pain!) early in the evening (like now, 6:08 – thinking I may go to bed when I finish this, or maybe now, without finishing it).

And happy!

Focusing on hope

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).

 

The grounded smile (md 4)

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.

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

Extending (md 8)

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.