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Posts Tagged ‘Ecstatic dancing’

I’m manic, no doubt about it.  After almost two weeks down (some of it pretty rough, but nowhere as bad as it often has been), six days ago I came up – and I have come too far up.  I’ve been missing a lot of sleep, but I’ve not been irritable, not making big errors in judgment, not spending too much money. I’ve been feeling good, having a good time at work, being very productive.  Let’s call it a manic-depression 4 – significantly expanded.

When I’m manic, expanded, the work is grounding.  Here’s one way I worked on that this morning.  i was at my Sunday morning ecstatic dance, having a great time.  And something happened there which sometimes tends to happen when I’m manic: I started to smile – big smile, big shit-eating grin that just stayed there for a minute or two at a time.  i was just that happy, that benevolent, that much liking myself and the other people around me.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

So what’s the problem, right?  Well the problem has to do with being ungrounded, with getting too high.  This ecstatic state (and yes, it is ecstatic dance) can kind of blow the top of my head off, can be too dizzy – it doesn’t get integrated.  But this morning I came up with a strategy that worked pretty well: I focused on my feet on the floor.  This created a wonderful little energy loop – a connection between my head (where my smile was) and my feet, my high energy and some groundedness.  This made me trust the smiling happiness more – and made me realize that it was tending before to have a little out-of-control quality, even a little scary.  This groundedness allowed me to move in and out of dancing with other people in a kind of seamless way – enjoying their energy, their dancing, without losing track of mine.

So I was grateful for the smiling, which tends to not happen much when I’m depressed – and grateful for the grounding, which tends to more come out of my depressed state.  It was a genuine complex healing state (see the page above) – a real state of relative balance even though I was still mostly manic.  It was sweet, precious – and to be savored.  Tomorrow I may be depressed, but I still had this.  It was real – actually more real because it was grounded, less in my head.

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My new psychiatrist recently said something that I have been saying for a while (which makes him look smarter to me :)): “Bipolar disorder is not a mood disorder, but an energy disorder.  We go through cycles of expansion and contraction.”  My central depressive symptom is a painful contraction, like each cell is in a vice.  Sometimes the mood change lags behind by a couple of days – once it never happened at all, just seven days of painful contraction …no sadness or discouragement or nasty self-talk, nuthin’.

So when I am depressed – contracted – like today, Mania-depression 8 (“definite physical contraction”) sometimes the best treatment is anything that helps me to extend.  Expansion may be too big a stretch, but if i can reach out, push out, lean into life – anything that can get me back out from being curled up into a little ball.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m.: not quite enough sleep, having gotten to bed at 11:30, but I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so I knew that what I needed to do was to extend – get up – but instead I contracted back into the bed, trying/pretending to be asleep and just making myself miserable.  Finally, at the last possible time, I extended by getting up and going to dance (Asheville Movement Collective ecstatic dancing – see the page at the top).  I had to really push to get there on time.

Then, on the dance floor, I was confronted with a big blank canvas for painting contraction or extension.  (Sometimes extending left me expanded, but it continues to feel useful to make the distinction.  Extending is the effort to push out of contraction.  Expansion is what happens when it works.)  Some of the time I pulled in on myself.  But some of the time I extended.  I extended my energy and my body – moving vigorously through the space.  I extended towards other dancers – moving in and out of their space, dancing around them.  This is more complex: that other dancer can respond in a variety of ways.  In one instance, she danced away sooner than I would have wished.  In another, I finally moved away because I couldn’t handle how open she seemed.

Sometimes I can't find anything to do but to contract; other times, with a lot of effort, I can extend out.

Sometimes I can’t find anything to do but to contract; other times, with a lot of effort, I can extend out.

Overall, I was very confronted with all my issues about moving towards other dancers – all my insecurities, my mental trips about “Do they want me?”  And today that felt very productive.  Whereas another I day I might have just said, “I’m depressed, I’m contracted and I’m having a terrible time”, today I said, “I’m confronting some of my trickiest interpersonal issues.”  That seemed workable, important, valuable.

After dance, I completed the second part of my extending commitment for the morning – going to church.  Over the last year, I have been doing a lot of pulling away from this community – which has at times past been very important to me.  Sometimes I have been critiquing the church, sometimes I have just said that I hate going there when I’m depressed.  Today I said, “This place pushes all my buttons around belonging.”  This is such a  more useful way to think about it.  It’s also a place where I like/care about/love a lot of people – and they feel this for me.  If it also stirs the pot, gets me to work on my key issues, why would I not want to be there?  When I’m up, I love being there.  When I’m down, it’s an opportunity to practice extending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s what i did while swimming laps on Wednesday that allowed my mood to continue to lift after my magical visit with my friend (yesterday’s post).  It’s especially fresh, because I did essentially this same thing swimming a couple of hours ago.  I started this day at a mania-depression 8 (definite physical contraction, with significant discouragement and negative self-talk), lifted to a 7 (slightly depressed) during and after a good Overeaters Anonymous meeting, then got to a 6 (balanced – yay!) during and after swimming.  So far this has held.  Since my mood frequently is better in the afternoon and evening, I’m hopeful that I’ll get through the rest of this day in this wonderful state of balance.  And I’m going ecstatic dancing tonight (see page at the top of the blog), which tends – if I’m even close to not depressed – to be a lot of fun.  (If I’m really depressed it can be awful.)

Lap swimming, like ecstatic dancing, is one of my key tools for staying balanced.  I’m a lousy swimmer, have never learned to put my face in the water and do a reasonable crawl and instead do lots of side stroke and back stroke, but still 45 minutes of it is great exercise, leaves me more relaxed – and on a good day can be soothing to my mind.  Oftentimes I will try to count my breaths (1 on the inbreath and again on the outbreath, then 2 – up to 10 and start again) as one way to calm my mind while I’m swimming.  Other times my mind may not get quite this quiet, but I can do some soothingly peaceful thinking about things in my life.  When I’m really depressed, as the last couple of weeks, the contents of my mind may stay pretty gnarly through almost the whole 45 minutes – maybe easing up a little as the time goes along.

No goggles for me - I don't stick my face in the water, which makes me a very clumsy swimmer.

No goggles for me – I don’t stick my face in the water, which makes me a very clumsy swimmer.

All this 12 Step stuff – after just 2 1/2 weeks of exploring it (see my post on August 28) – is mostly still also swimming in my head, but I have just started trying to get my hands around the first three steps.  These last two times swimming, I have been occupying my mind with phrases from these three steps

  1. “We admitted that we were powerless over food – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

    Just thinking the word “admitted” has been soothing to me – I can feel the resistance, the tension, the inner struggle softening as I just acknowledge to myself that I have a serious problem with food.

  2. “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

    “Came to believe”.  I don’t believe in a personal God. I consider myself to be non-theistic, which is very different from atheistic – I don’t oppose the idea of a God.  I actually think that when people use the word God, they are trying to point towards the same reality I do believe in.  I also think of myself as more spiritual than agnostic, which is simply saying “I don’t know what is true.”  I do believe there is something going on deeper than material reality.  I believe that life (I sometimes use a capital L) is in some mysterious way intelligent and benevolent – keeps sending us exactly the experiences we most need for our healing and growth.

    My rational mind sure doesn’t know how to get its hands around all this, but I still believe it’s true – and sometimes even experience it as true.  But most of the time it is not experientially/psychologically/emotionally true for me: I don’t live from this place.  I don’t most of the time emotionally feel supported by Life or any Higher Power.  But I want to – I want to translate this principle from a cognitive belief to a living, breathing experience.  And from just these couple of weeks of sitting in OA meetings where people are making reference to their Higher Power (two meetings in my first twelve days, then four in the last five days!) and having now four support calls with people who come from this orientation, I feel something starting to get loosened up in me.

    I sense the possibility of all this getting more real for me.  So using “Came to believe” as a mantra while I swim has been very powerful for me.  It’s soothing, encouraging – makes me feel like something new and positive may be starting to stir within me.  I even feel like I might be on the verge of a kind of conversion – not to a personal God, but to a more personal, supportive relationship with Life, whatever that is.

    “Could restore us to sanity.”  That “admitted” word from the first step has me really acknowledging not only that I am powerless over food, and that my eating life has become unmanageable – but I’m looking at a whole variety of ways that my life is pretty crazy, many of which relate directly to bipolar disorder.  At the heart of all this is the crazy illusion that I am a separate self in an uncaring universe.  The idea that I could be restored to sanity feels really good.

There’s more that I want to share about the good stuff happening while I’m swimming, but that’s already a pretty hefty post for today.  Let’s put up the rest of it tomorrow.

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When I am depressed, it is almost impossible for me to enjoy music.  Music that I have otherwise grooved to just irritates me.  If I try to listen to music while I’m exercising, I turn it off.  When I am even a little bit up, I love music – it  takes me to some wonderful places.  In my recent long spell of depression, I mostly lost track of music – now, praise God, I’m starting to get it back.

About ten years ago, I was hospitalized in the same state hospital twice in a month.  The first time, I came in suicidally depressed, then within my first day there flipped over into being pretty manic.  There was a terrific young woman staff member who rotated among the units doing I don’t know what she called it: “exercise therapy”? “music therapy”?  She would come on our unit maybe every day, using just a cheap boombox, and would play very upbeat music while she had us up on our feet following her in some series of aerobics.

Well, I pretended to do her exercises, but I mostly just danced.  I had a ball.  i was totally all over the rhythm, owned the beat.  I pretended i was dancing in some wonderful, magical night club – not a dingy and oppressive mental hospital.  I loved the (mostly not so special) music over this less than mediocre sound system.  I do think she was genuinely terrific – upbeat, supportive, charming.  But then I may have been exaggerating that, too.

They let me out of that place in just a few days – I was no longer depressed and they don’t keep you there if you’re not dangerous to yourself or others.  I was back again in just two weeks – the shortest time ever between two hospitalizations, but I hadn’t stayed long enough the first time to really do much good, and had left seriously manic.  This time my suicidal depression didn’t lift for a couple of weeks.  And I hated that exercise class.  I couldn’t find the beat.  My body would not move.  It was all painful.

I’ve been doing a meditation called Modern Day Meditation, which is all done to music and they encourage you to get up and move if that is what is wanting to be expressed through you.  They also encourage you to do this at home, and when you are having a hard time to try at least to let yourself to go with one song: to dance hard, cry, shake, scream, whatever – just to get the energy moving.

One day a few weeks ago, when I was really bottomed out, I went up to my room, played some of my favorite Spotify music, and did most of these things.  I had a very hard time getting into it – at first most of it felt like hard work.  The music just didn’t work for me.  I several times changed what I was listening to, some of my favorite music just grated on me.  But little by little, over the course of about 40 minutes,  I did get some release.  Then I went out on my front porch and wrote for about an hour and ended up feeling pretty good.

So I know it can work.  And I believe there must be music out there which is soothing when I’m depressed – I just haven’t found it.  Know some?  Put it in a comment where we can all see it.

For the last two weeks, I have again been mostly depressed, and I have let go of the music that three weeks ago – through the magic of Spotify – I was happily discovering.  This morning, a couple of days into being at about a 5 (slightly expanded) on my manic-depression scale, while walking the dog I discovered Ani DiFranco (not dance music, but warm and rich and human and poetic) on Spotify – and life is good.

My current Ani DiFranco fix

My current Ani DiFranco fix

Knuckle Down cover - doesn't she ever look full of life!?

Knuckle Down cover – doesn’t she ever look full of life!?

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I guess I somehow had no choice.  I'll maybe never understand it.

I guess I somehow had no choice. I’ll maybe never understand it.

Wow, back to this blog after almost four years away!  It feels good.

It’s been a tumultuous time: first an extremely chaotic year, with the two most major manias I have experienced in many years (no change in meds, don’t know where they came from) and two bottomed-out depressions that landed me in the hospital for the first times in a few years.

The second mania saw me sell, give away or throw away everything I owned but one carload of stuff that I intended to take with me to Mexico to “start a new life”.  This totally ungrounded, whacked-out, wildly manic episode was by the far the most unhinged by mania I have ever become.  When, two weeks before I was scheduled to take off for Mexico, my plan finally fell apart (praise God then, rather than on the road or already in Mexico), my life also fell apart.  Then followed about 2 1/2 years of deep depression and gradually rebuilding my life.

Two key elements in this rebuilding have been a wonderful new therapist who I will certainly write about here and an extremely healing practice of ecstatic dancing.  I’ve started a blog devoted to this practice – danceintegrity.com, ecstatic dancing as experienced by one dancer – but will probably also post here several installments about how this practice fits in with my recovery from bipolar disorder.

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