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Posts Tagged ‘negative self-talk’

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 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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Up and down together is good news!

I’m inhabiting a mixed state today.  There’s lot of evidence that I’m still down (for the last ten days – today I’m calling myself a mania-depression 8, “Definite physical contraction”): on the conference call I was on this morning, my responses were really flat; my unconscious is still trying to generate the “This is all bullshit” mantra (though i have new tools to wrestle with this – which I will describe in a different post).  So it’s clear to me that my biochemistry has not shifted – I’m still down.

When I’m up, I’m very keen about this blog.  I believe that it has lots of value to offer – to mental health professionals and other helpers, to family and friends of people with bipolar disorder, but especially to my brothers and sisters who also suffer with this condition.  I picture that writing these mostly autobiographical posts will spill over into finishing my memoir, which is largely about bipolar disorder – and that this will then also reach and help people.  And I picture more books – why not? I have the professional credentials and the lived experience.  And finally I picture public speaking on the topic.  Again, why not?  I’m a terrific public speaker and get tremendous satisfaction from it.  All this will spill from the baby steps of writing this blog, day by day.

When I’m down, as I have been, I’m usually discouraged about my writing.  This blog seems useless.  “What do I have to say to anybody else about bipolar disorder when my own condition is still so out of control?”  And if my blog is worthless, the whole scenario of books and public speaking falls apart.

Today I’m clearly down.  Yet I’m encouraged.  Yesterday I had three separate encouraging experiences around my blog.  I had two days earlier sent the link to this blog to an associate who is very centrally positioned in the local mental health community.  I got her reply email yesterday morning, in which she raved about the blog up one side and down the other.  Then the piece of stand-up comedy that I performed at church yesterday (see yesterday’s post “A piece of manic comedy”), which in my down state I thought was badly written and would not reach people, did reach them – in spades.  More affirmation about my writer’s voice.  Then, in the evening, I wrote that blog post i just referenced – and couldn’t resist the assessment that it’s a good piece of writing and one that has a lot to say about bipolar disorder, that it could be useful to many people concerned about bipolar disorder, especially my cohort with the disorder.  My carryover from all this today is that I’m more believing in my writing voice, in this blog – and in all the other elements of a positive future that I see spilling from this blog.

So today I’m down – and encouraged.  My take on bipolar disorder is that the target is not so much mood stability as what I call bipolar integrity.  The problem is that these two states, mania and depression, operate so separate from each other – they polarize. We are like two different people that have no crossover, that don’t talk with each other.  Each side has gifts to offer, but those gifts don’t come to fruition as long as we are so split down the middle.  We need to integrate those two parts.

The da Vinci Vitruvian Man represents for me an image of wholeness, of integration.

The da Vinci Vitruvian Man represents for me an image of wholeness, of integration.

Today my up state and my down state are co-existing.  I’ve got flat responses and self-destructive rumination – along with encouragement about my writing and my future.  I’m not having fun – my mood is not up.  I would not say that I am happy even.  It makes me realize how attached I am to my up state, even with all its negative implications (ungrounded, out of control, creating the crash that comes after).  But I’m not discouraged.  So I have elements of my up state, but am not really up.  And I have elements of my down state, but I’m not really down.  I would not say that I’m in balance, because when I’m there I don’t have the elements of suffering that I have today.

Yet this is fundamentally encouraging.  The integration that I see as central to my healing is happening.  Part of me wants to try to leverage the good elements, to pull hard to get out of or away from the down elements – to get myself feeling good.  But another, i think wiser part, is saying, “Soak in this state.  Appreciate, relish this state.  Out of this mixed state will come the integration that is the key to your positive future.”

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A little over two months ago, I sat down with my friend Lisa for our occasional two-person writer’s group.  I had a clear mission.  Once a quarter I perform poetry (almost always poetry) at Jubilee, this non-denominational church I attend.  I had looked at the themes for the next quarter and saw that on September 15 (today) the theme for the service would be “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”.  I thought, “I have a new grandbaby – I’ll write some sweet poem about the innocence of childhood or something like that.”

The Jubilee Celebration Room

The Jubilee Celebration Room

When I sat down with my writer friend, however, I was manic – and what poured out over the next 55 minutes was a wild piece of comedy titled, “It’s never too late to have a screwed-up childhood.”  In it, I teased Jubilee, Howard the minister, Don his brother-in-law and church administrator, Don’s wife Genevieve – and skewered our eccentric town of Asheville, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons and especially the Tea Party.

Howard our minister

Howard our minister

I loved it.  I laughed out loud as I was writing it.  My friend Lisa did not respond as enthusiastically, but then she hadn’t been feeling well, so I (in that moment) made nothing of it.  I was in a pretty unstoppable mode.   I put a post on Facebook, telling people the date and saying how much fun it was going to be.  As I rehearsed it over the next few days, my enthusiasm over the piece only grew.  They love my stuff at Jubilee – they love the serious stuff, but they especially love my funny stuff.  They consistently find it funnier than I do, rehearsing it out loud while walking my dog in the woods.  And this piece I myself thought was hysterical.

When I was high.  Then, after a few days, I crashed.  And suddenly this piece of comedy didn’t seem so funny.  I remembered Lisa’s muted response and thought, “She’s right – it sucks.”  And it was too long.  The window for pieces at Jubilee is five minutes, and this one was clocking in at eight.  When I was still high, that didn’t seem like a problem: “They love me at Jubilee – nobody is going to be watching the clock.  This is great stuff, it’s worth a couple extra minutes.”  Back down on the ground, eight minutes looked egregious (and really is way too long).  And some of the humor was a little mean-spirited – actually a lot of it seemed that way.  So it’s not funny, it’s mean-spirited,  it’s way too long, but if I take out all the inappropriate stuff there will not be much left.

I tried to pull the plug on it.  I wrote Howard that there were a whole lot of problems with the piece and I wanted to pull it.  “Fortunately you still have a lot of time to find a replacement.”  Howard is one of my very biggest fans – and loves what my poetry and comedy does for the Jubilee community.  He didn’t want to hear it.  “Can’t you edit it? Or is there some other piece of yours that you can pull out?”

Well, apparently I wanted my arm twisted.  I told him I would try.  A couple of days later, my mood had lifted (too much, actually) and I found that when I edited out the edgier humor, leaving only the affectionate teasing, there was still a lot of funny stuff left – and it now clocked in just a little bit less than five minutes.  So I was back to enjoying it – got freshly enthused about it during my dog walks in the woods.

Then nine days ago I crashed again.  Now there were two problems with the piece.  I again became sure that it was poorly written and not funny – and I was equally sure that I would not be able to perform it effectively.  “Comedy is all about timing – and when I’m this down my timing is all off.  I have no flow, everything I do falls flat.”  This assessment is probably overly self-critical, but actually has some truth to it.

“So the writing sucks and my performance is going to be pitiful.  This is going to be an embarrassment,  In nine years of performing at Jubilee once a quarter, I’ve never bombed, but this is probably going to be it.”  All along I had intended to put a reminder up on Facebook a few days before the performance, but I did not.  I wished there were some way that I could get out of it altogether.

This morning, I was not only depressed, I was angry.  I didn’t know where the anger had come from or what it was about.  In addition to my frequent nihilistic mantra “This is bullshit” (muttered under my breath), this morning I added “Fuck you”.  This was not an auspicious mode for delivering comedy – it actually scared the shit out of me, but I couldn’t shake it.

Finally, as I was getting ready to leave – kind of out of desperation – I tried to use the 3rd Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (and Overeaters Anonymous, my addiction).  It’s a new behavior for me to “turn it over” to my Higher Power.  New because I usually try to muscle through things on my own – and because I basically have no idea what my Higher Power is.  I do believe that Life is intelligent and in some very mysterious way benevolent, has our best interests at heart – somehow loves us.  I believe it, and sometimes (especially when I’m up) genuinely, in my guts, experience it as true.  But mostly (especially when I’m down) I live from a place of isolation – it’s tiny little me against an overwhelming, uncaring universe.

But, neophyte that I am at this turning it over business, I tried.  “Life, I can’t handle this by myself.  I don’t know how to shake this anger.  I can’t seem to get out from under this depression.  I don’t know how to find the kind of rhythm I’ll need to deliver comedy.  It’s up to you – I’m turning it over to you.”

And it worked!  As I was walking up towards Jubilee, I saw one of my friends going in ahead of me and thought, “There are so many people in this community whom I love – and who genuinely love me.  I have the chance to give them something today.  I want to give them a gift, a gift of laughter.”  My mood started to lighten.

As i walked into the celebration room, a friend said,

“I see you in the program today – I’m looking forward to what you have to say about childhood.”

“Don’t expect anything today except hopefully a bunch of laughs.”

“Ah, but I know that with your humor there is always some deeper meaning underneath.”

“You’re going to have to really dig to find any deeper meaning here.”

“Well my childhood had nothing funny about it – if you can make me laugh about childhood, that will be worth it to me.”

This post is pretty long already.  Let me just say that I hit my stride, had a great time at both services, the people of Jubilee adored the piece – found it even funnier than I had ever (even when I was up) expected.  I came away with my writer’s voice feeling very affirmed, at a time when I have been discouraged about writing anything of any use to anybody.  I realized that this piece was not only funny – but that getting people to laugh about the whole happy childood/screwed-up childhood dichotomy actually did have deeper significance, was in a way genuinely healing.  The piece was actually wiser than I realized.  And the process of co-creating a few minutes of magic – me and the audience, creating it together – really punched a hole in my isolation.  It all was healing for me, too.

An earlier funny piece at Jubilee

An earlier funny piece at Jubilee

Sometimes I sink into the truth that I'm loved at Jubilee, but it's so easy to forget.  Step 3 - "Made a decision to turn over my life and my will to God's care, as I understand God." Life loves me.

Sometimes I sink into the truth that I’m loved at Jubilee, but it’s so easy to forget. Step 3 – “Made a decision to turn over my life and my will to God’s care, as I understand God.” Life loves me.

I’m posting the piece, also.  Some of the Jubilee humor may be lost on you, and most of my stuff (maybe especially comedy) has less impact on the page than performed, but you’ll get a sense of it.  My friend with the not-funny childhood said afterwards that he smiled non-stop through the whole thing.  i hope you get a couple of smiles out of it.

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This morning i woke up with painful physical contraction immediately present.  Some days it takes an hour or more to kick in, but today it was immediate: i had not even stirred when i knew that the pain was back.  And, whereas the affective side of my disease – discouragement, negative self-talk, etc. – sometimes does not immediately (or sometimes not at all) accompany the physical pain (brain pain), today that affective side of depression was also present immediately.  I was, from the moment i gained consciousness, immersed in very painful emotion and cruel self-talk about myself and my life.  And the deep cognitive component of my condition was also in full gear – i was mostly believing these painful, discouraging thoughts about who i am and about the state of my life.

All this was so painful that moving around in the bed at all made it worse.  (The pain in my brain radiated out to the rest of my body.)  So i did everything i could to stay still – and preferably drift back off to sleep, which i did on-and-off until about 9 a.m.

At about 9 a.m., i finally convinced myself that i needed to get up, even though i knew that this would make me feel worse – which it did.  My face went into a painful grimace and i was so contracted that breathing and walking were both difficult.  As i tried to move out of my bedroom and down the hall towards the kitchen, at a couple of points i had to lean against the wall to steady myself.  But i knew that, among other things, i needed to let my dog out, so i kept going.

Sometimes, when i have slept this late – and when Buddy has not spent the night outside, which is his preference in warm weather (last night rain was forecast, so i brought him in) – he immediately wants to go outside.  But other times he wants to cuddle first, and this was one of those mornings.

As i sat down next to him under the kitchen table (on the nice thick area rug there, one of his favorite places) and began to talk to him, I was immediately shocked by how sweet were the words that came out my mouth!  I couldn’t believe that this sweet talk was emanating from the same brain that had, up until this very moment, been totally castigating me.  The words were so melodious, so gentle and tender, that i wanted to make them and hear them just as long as i could.  As long as the sweet words kept coming,  i felt lots, lots better emotionally and even physically.  And Buddy was still in no hurry to get going.  The couple of times i pulled a bit back and asked him if he wanted to go out, he immediately extended a paw onto my leg or arm or chest in his classic gesture of “No, don’t stop yet.”

Finally, i felt an internal need to “get going and get some things done”, did fully pull back – and Buddy immediately got up and asked to be let out the back door.  As I did so, much (but not all) of the physical and affective pain came back.

I almost immediately got a business call, which kicked me into gear.  While i was on the call, i was (as so commonly is the case) distracted from the physical/emotional/cognitive pain – but it all came back almost immediately when i got off the phone.  The gentle rain that had been falling left off and i walked Buddy and our neighbor dog Lucy back up the hill.  I was still in a lot of pain.  (So many people encourage me to get out and walk when i’m in this state, not knowing that physical movement – at this stage of physical contraction and brain pain – makes it worse, causes the brain pain to radiate out into the rest of my body.)

When i am feeling better than today, I like to reserve this first walk of the day for keeping my mind mostly empty, where it can be receptive to creative or interesting thoughts.  (I carry a little spiral pad and often jot lots of notes for stuff i want to write.)  But this morning i almost immediately threw my brain in the direction of memorizing a poem, a mechanism that i regularly use to distract myself from all that is going on within me.  Sometimes that works really well, and this morning it worked pretty well.

I came back and received another business-related call, but this time from a colleague whom i know and very much like.  Again i functioned – and even felt – very well while i was on the call.  When the call ended, i was immediately back in physical pain – but much less affective or cognitive pain, because i like talking with this friend and liked a couple of the plans we had made.  And i was encouraged to see myself functioning, overall, so well – on a morning when i had not been sure that i would be able to function at all.

It’s now a couple of hours later.  I am functioning fine: not, yet, attempting any complicated mental tasks – just sitting here writing this note.  (And even typing fast and well – i just ran a spellcheck and had not left an uncorrected typo in the whole note!)  I’m in a lot of pain (brain and body contracted, face grimacing, breathing too deep hurts), but i’m functioning fine – and less discouraged, mostly liking myself ok, and feeling a lot of compassion for this guy who is hurting so badly.

I’m pretty happy to have come this far, on a day that started so much worse.

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