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Posts Tagged ‘ruminating’

I’ve been in a tough place.  Since my dog died almost two weeks ago, I have in some ways crawled in a hole.  I’ve continued to work (actually started to work – my first day on my new job as a cashier at a healthy supermarket was the day after I put Buddy down, which was in some ways very good timing,,,to have a new beginning and something to focus my energy right then).  I’ve continued most of my self-maintenance activities – which are quite a lot by most people’s standards.  I go to therapy every week.  I do peer counseling over the phone (30 minutes each way) with my friend Byron every week.  I went to a meeting of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance the other night. I talk with my buddy Monty on the phone every week.  I talk on the phone with my friend Lynn 2-3x a week.  i swim 2-3x a week.  I dance on an average of twice a week.  I talk with my housemates – especially Tom who is an extrovert and loves to engage.  Several friends have called me since getting the word about my dog, and talking with them has been good for me.  I got a flood of condolences after I put the word on Facebook and there has been some comfort in feeling a community around me.

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All these extraordinary resources and support have not kept me from being in other ways quite lousy.  Before this one, I’ve written one blog post in three weeks, At the Sunday dance I was in a miserable place – tight, contracted, depressed –  mostly not even able to dance.  The same weekend Buddy was dying, I went to parts of the three-day retreat for my entrepreneurship program, where I dramatically expanded my vision for my business – but I have since (until today) done nothing to move those plans along, and that has been seriously discouraging.

And I have been staying in bed.  With Buddy, I was almost always up by 7: “Hey, I have a dog to feed and walk – let’s get going.”  Not hard, really – I naturally wake up early.  It’s rare for me to sleep past 7.  I often wake up well earlier.  When I’m on the manic side of things, I get up and at ’em.  When I’m depressed, I lay there awake, trying to be asleep, getting myself in a progressively more and more foul mood.  Until 7.

Now it has felt like there is nothing to get up for.  I have stayed in bed until 9, 10, 11, 1.  Last Saturday I woke up at 6:30, but kept going back to bed until 1.  That’s a very long time to lay there awake.  It’s a depressive thing, I know – people with depression do this.  At my depression and bipolar support group the other night, there was a whole little conversation about how many of us have done this.  But I haven’t done it for over a year.  I’ve been miserably depressed at times, but not stayed in or gone back to bed.

Today was different – and I owe a lot of it to my friend Kate.

I’ll give myself kudos for making the call.  When I got off work last night, I was in a lousy mood, so I made two calls.  I left a message for my friend Johanna – and then I reached my Milwaukee friend Kate.  Kate and I have been friends for over a dozen years.  We usually talk every few weeks and it had been about that long.  She is under a lot of family stress and was glad to first talk about that – and it felt good to provide supportive listening to my friend.

Sometimes you need help from a friend.

Sometimes you need help from a friend.

Then she turned her finely-honed, intuitive, professional counselor attention to me.  She knew and loved my Buddy – and deeply loves dogs – so she gave me great support around that.  Then, when I talked about staying in bed, several positive developments tumbled out:

  • She asked me if my local friends knew what a tough place I’m in.  I acknowledged probably not.  After I got off the phone with her, I had a talk with my roommate Tom in which I fessed up.  It felt good to do.  I had a similar conversation with my other housemate Will today.
  • I committed to get up today at 7 a.m.
  • Kate suggested that I be a good loving father to myself and take myself for a walk.  She also shared her belief that Buddy’s doggie spirit is still with me and that I should practice feeling him with me when I walk.
  • Kate knows about my entrepreneurship program: almost took it herself, and completely jumped in my shit when I got depressed and almost didn’t follow through with it.  (“It’s not right for me – but it’s totally right for you.  You need to do it.”  And she was right.)  She got me to commit that today I would spend two hours working on my plans for my business.

The commitments I made to Kate turned my day around, though not without some pretty significant wavering.  I woke at 6:45 and got myself out of the bed by 7.  But then, after a trip to the bathroom, I came back and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.  I had told Kate that I would call her when I got up (more accountability).  After a half-hour of this stupor, I texted her about what was going on.  She texted back, “This is a loving kick in the ass – GET GOING!!!”  And it worked – I went downstairs and had breakfast.

But then I spent another half-hour doing the same thing before my 9 a.m. conversation with Monty – then afterwards spent 30 minutes more sitting and staring at the desk and another 30 minutes back sitting on the side of the bed.  I was precariously close to going back to bed – “I never told her I wouldn’t go back to bed” – but I knew that if I did that my commitments to work on my business and go for a walk would be greatly at risk.  And I remembered a woman at the support group the other night who spoke very compellingly of how she reached a point where she knew she had to summon all her force and just will herself out of bed.  I felt myself tapping into her determination as I finally headed to the bathroom to shave and, at almost 11 a.m., to get dressed.

Getting down to business 11-1-13

Then I spent 90-120 minutes working on my business!  That went extremely well and left me in a really pretty good mood.  What had felt intimidating and overwhelming and discouraging – developing an 18-day email class on healing through bipolar disorder – now felt eminently doable.  I practically did a little victory dance.

Then I wrote a few emails (including one to Kate), paid a few bills, then went for that walk.  On the walk I rehearsed two poems – one that I’ll perform at Jubilee in a week and one for a big poetry concert in March.  Then I mowed the front yard lawn: the front yard was where Buddy spent most of his waking time, and this was a hurdle for me – but it went fine, felt like a success.  Now I’m writing this blog post.  In 90 minutes I’ll go dance.  At this time yesterday, I would have been pretty nervous that dance could be a lousy experience – today I’m very hopeful that I will have a good time.

Thanks Kate – and your well-timed, virtual, loving kick in the ass.

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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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Written before the start of Art Church this morning.

Now that I have resuscitated my bipolar blog, what might I want to write this morning about bipolar disorder?  Today I’m sick.  Was yesterday also – but then I was too sick to be conscious of anything else.  Today I’m enough surfaced to notice how much this state of sick is similar to depression.  (I may actually be both, but in the past being really sick has upstaged depression for me.)  This morning I heard myself mutter “This is bullshit” – the anthem of depression for me.

Later: Over the course of the day, my sick continued to lighten – and with it my mood.  I stayed kind of sick, but actually had a pretty good day, and my mood went from a little depressed (md 5) to actually pretty good (let’s call it an md 7).

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I woke kind of abruptly to the sound of my neighbor Tom’s car going down the driveway.  He only leaves this early when he’s off to sales appointments. (He’s a regional sales person for a medium-sized company.)

I had again been up too late for my own good, but not as bad as previous nights.  I stayed up an extra 40 minutes because i had kept my doggie in for the night.  (They were predicting rain.)  He was laying there on his bed, watching me to see when i was gonna give him some love – I “tuck him in” every night before bed.  When i did start to pet him, he was loving it so much and i was loving him so much that i just couldn’t get myself to stop.  When i finally did stop, he was so relaxed and content and near sleep that he didn’t even raise a longing eye in my direction.

As i was getting into bed, i thought that he’s such a wonderful dog that it’s just not possible to give him as much love as he deserves – and i wished that there were more people in my household, so that more than one person could flood him with love on a regular basis.

After just a bit of review of my day, i drifted easily off to sleep – as i do most every night.  (Unless, on rare occasion, i forget to take my nighttime mood stabilizer Seroquel, which does have some sedating effect – and without which i cannot stay asleep more than about an hour.  But that’s another story, under the “Treatments” tab, whenever i get around to writing it.)

Today i seem fine.  I have a long unstructured day ahead, until about 6 p.m. when i go into town for choir rehearsal – to which i always look forward.  I don’t feel too intimidated by the impossible number of A-priority tasks i have on my plate – more just trusting that the ones that need to get done, will.

As i took the dogs (mine and Lucy, Tom’s dog) for our first walk back up our lovely hill, i observed myself obsessing over some thoughts – gnawing on them like a bone, well beyond getting any meat out of them.  I thought about how my friend says that obsessing (the shrinks call it ruminating) goes with depression – as the compulsion to “get things done” goes with hypomania.  (See the entry on OCD under the “Theories tab.)

This early walk is usually a more or less creative time for me: i don’t bring any poems to memorize (as i do later in the day, when – without something to occupy my mind – my thoughts and state so often go south), so that i can keep my mind clear and receptive to creative or at least productive thoughts.

So i guess i’m a tiny bit depressed – we’ll call it a 7, “garden-variety” depression like everybody experiences from time to time (even the majority of people, whose deprssion seldom progresses to an 8).

I’m mostly looking forward to my day.  Another day to be grateful – very grateful – that i am not in contracted depressive pain.

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