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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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An unexpected dance…

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.

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.

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.  

 

More up and down together (md 8)

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.

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.