All of my people like me better when I’m manic, or at least headed there. Well, won’t they all be so happy today.
What they don’t realize is the sheer amount of work I put into trying to appear motivated and energetic, but happy. I can say that I am not happy.
Yes, I have energy and I’m motivated, but I literally have 5 projects going at once right now, not including writing this piece. Sure stuff is getting done, but I’ve probably forgotten to do more than I’ve actually done. All the floors are clean, but nothing above the floors, which means that once I dust I’ll have to vacuum again.
Inside my mind though, I’m aggravated and irritable and my fuse is short. And I will have to spend the day controlling that. And it will be hard. Very very hard.
I’m not all the way to mania yet. But, I’m getting there. The roller coaster is slowly chugging up that first hill and the peak is in sight. I don’t know what’s at the top. A steep dive towards the ground? A psych out with just a short drop and some turns? Don’t know. I’ll find out when I get there.
In the meantime, I’m forcing myself to keep my cool. I don’t have to go anywhere today unless my parents want me to come over and I will try to beg off that.
If I can stay home, clean stuff, do laundry and stay out of everyone’s way it will really be the best case scenario.
The other day I wrote a post about my new coping skills toolbox. It’s just a box that I bought and painted. I put pieces of wood with many of my coping skills on them into the box. Now, I don’t have to try to think of a coping skill when I’m having trouble, I can just grab the box.
But, what is a coping skill? Coping skills do NOT stop a mood swing. If you are in the process of mania or depression, a coping skill will not stop it. What it WILL do, however, is make that swing a little easier to deal with. Depending on who you are, some will work better than others. Some work better on anxiety, some work better on depression and some are best with mania. And some won’t work for you at all. But, everyone can find at least one that will help if you can commit to it.
Pray – obviously this depends on the degree of faith in your life. But, if you have faith in a higher power, whatever it may be, appeal to it, ask for help. You know best how to deal with your prayer and I won’t try to explain it to you here.
Breathing Exercises – There are a ton of these and anyone who is in therapy or under the care of a psychiatrist has probably heard of at least one of them. My personal favorite it “square breathing”. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat until you have calmed down a bit. This gives you extra oxygen and takes your mind off your personal issues for at least a few minutes, clearing your mind and hopefully helping you think a little clearer.
Grounding – I have trouble with this one, but it works for a lot of others. Sit calmly and engage all 5 senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? This is, at heart, a mindfulness exercise. It is designed to take you out of the swirl of your symptoms and ground you in the exact moment you are occupying.
Affirmations – Yes, positive mantras. I have resisted this for years and years and years as stupid. I have terrible self-esteem and feel ridiculous standing in a mirror saying that I am beautiful or smart, or whatever. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. “My husband/wife/significant other loves me and supports me”. “I’ve gotten through difficult times like this before and I can do it again”. “One step at a time, I can do this”. To my surprise, some of this is actually starting to work for me.
Gratitude – Another one I have trouble with. Write down what you are grateful for at this moment. Your significant other, your children, your parents, I’m not in the hospital, I’m alive, I have somewhere to live, I have food to eat … etc. When I’m deep in it I usually have trouble being grateful. Keep a list somewhere to remind yourself.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation – I love this one, especially at bedtime. Lay in your bed (this is how I prefer, but you can sit), get comfortable. Start at your feet or your head (I prefer feet) and work to relax your body, piece by piece from the bottom up. You may need to contract muscles to get them to relax. Don’t forget joints like elbows and knees and don’t forget your jaw (mine is always tight). This activity can actually help lull you to sleep.
Journal/Blog – Get it out of your head and down on paper! It can really help to just spew all the things that you are thinking out, but sometimes it’s so personal you don’t want to share it with family or friends. Write it down. You can keep it or throw it out when you are done, but get it out.
ABC Game – I really like this one and it’s great for elevated moods like anxiety or hypomania. Pick a subject. I usually start with the names of people that I know or have known. Start at A and name something. Keep moving through the alphabet. A for Adam, B for Ben, C for Christine, etc. If you get stuck on a letter, just skip it, but don’t worry about it. The process of thinking about this, helps calm the mind. This one works really well for me.
Color – A lot of people get a lot out of coloring. The mere act of concentrating on staying within the lines or picking a color or imagining how you want the finished picture to look stops your mind from dwelling exclusively on whatever you are spinning around in your head.
Read a book – This didn’t used to work for me, then I started reading books for teens. The Maze Runner series and The Lorien Legacies Series are two sci-fi series that I have used. They are ridiculously easy reads and they don’t take a lot of brain power, but I found them engaging enough to keep up with. And they had the added benefit of redirecting my mind for awhile.
That’s just a few of the tons of different coping skills that you can use. I hope that you are able to pull at least one out of this list to help you.
Please feel free to put other ideas in the comments section. I’m always looking for more and you never know who may find exactly what they need in your comment!
It started yesterday in earnest and today it seems like it may have settled in. I’m already looking for workarounds for things I have to do. The dog is eating a tissue and I don’t have the give a fuck in me to make him stop. One tissue won’t hurt him. Joe just went out to do the weekly grocery shopping and I asked him to get something simple, like pot pies for tonight’s dinner, because I just can’t. It’s not that I couldn’t throw something in the crockpot, I could. But, what? Just the thought of a houseful of groceries, the choices are already paralyzing. My husband has begun doing more and more of the grocery shopping as the pandemic has unfolded and he’s pretty much doing it all now, as long as it can be done in Walmart or BJs, two stores I have trouble going into on a good day. On a bad day, like today, you can forget it.
I broke down when my husband asked what was wrong. I’m just so depressed! But, there is no reason for you to be depressed, he says. I know, I know, my stupid brain is fighting with my stupid mind and the stupid chemicals are doing stupid things and all I know is that I’m miserable, exhausted and having a hard time giving a crap about anything.
I did manage a shower, which felt pretty impressive until I realized that it’s been a few days. My hair was a rat’s nest and at least now I’m clean and my hair is brushed.
I don’t know that any of this makes any sense. I just had to get it out, to write it down, to give myself a record of how shitty the depression is. It’s so hard to remember this helpless, useless feeling when it’s not actually happening. Even if it’s only been a day. The mind seems to protect me from remembering the cold sober truth of how unbearably awful and pathetic I feel. I just want to curl up in a ball in bed and never move.
But, I’m going to go grab my coping skills toolbox and sit in the sun for as long as I can manage.
Like many bipolars I’ve encountered, I am a “creative type.” I am a trained musician, like to draw and like to write when the muse inspires me. This all comes to the forefront of my life when I am hypomanic. During my last two hospital stays here in Germany, I was rapid cycling, and during the hypomanic episodes, I caught the wind of creativity and rode it as far as it would carry me, that being to the next depression, in which all that creativity came to a crashing halt. But my hypomanic productivity was impressive. I made drawings with ballpoint pen that even surprised me. I used my laptop to compose piano pieces and Afro Cuban jazz arrangements. And I made lots of these. I felt brilliant; unstoppable. When I was released, my rapid cycling continued, so my productivity continued. I picked up my upright bass and practiced until…
Who knew that’s what I was doing? I sure didn’t. I wrote a post in October about my insomnia and at the time I blamed it on my obsessive thoughts, which is my primary OCD symptom.
Turns out, it very well may have been Trump’s fault. Now, I’m not going to go off on another political post here. I don’t like writing them in this space. This space is mine, not the politician’s, and they’ve crept in enough thank you very much. But, I knew this was the answer when I slept 7 hours the night before the inauguration.
SEVEN HOURS! I haven’t slept more then 6 hours in months and those are never all in a row. Seven hours was like a beautiful gift and I couldn’t have been more satisfied.
Until last night.
I dozed off watching inauguration stuff around 6 and I never woke up until 4 am. TEN HOURS!!! That’s the amount of sleep that is perfect for me. My bipolar requires it, has for years. My mother swears it’s too much, but it’s where I function best. Let’s face it, fighting your brain every single day is exhausting. Working to appear normal takes a lot of energy, a lot of spoons, and that needs replenishing. It’s part of why, when you get admitted to a psych ward, they immediately start working on your sleep.
The fact that I managed to avoid the psych ward during this latest stretch of insomnia is nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned. It’s been the result of all of my bouts of insomnia and this was, by far, the worst. I’ve switched sleep meds 8 times, even taking on a stint of the dreaded seroquel, just to get some sleep.
Turns out, all I needed to do was make it to Inauguration. All I needed was a Trump free life.
Of course, I’m declaring myself cured after two nights of sleep, so we’ll see what happens.
If you’ve ever spent time in any type of therapy, you’re probably familiar with coping skills. These are skills ranging from little games to reroute your thinking to breathing strategies and mantras. And they are very helpful. But you have to remember to use them.
Through my years and years (and years) of therapy I’ve heard this collection of skills referred to as being in my toolbox. I’ve picked up skills through the years, but they’ve been written down here and there, in various journals, blog posts and hand outs. I really have only ever been able to think of one or maybe two at any given time. But, Karen and I are consistently talking about this imaginary coping skills toolbox.
So, I’ve made it a reality.
Over the last few years I’ve developed an interest in painting wood crafts. I’ve made things for my grandchildren, but never anything for myself. Over the last month though I started working on a tangible toolbox for all of these skills that right now are scattered everywhere.
I would have preferred a wooden box that actually resembled a toolbox, but search as I may, I couldn’t find one. So, I settled for a regular box. On the lid are the names and numbers of the important contacts in the event of a mental health crisis. My husband, therapist, psychiatrist and, since I tend towards suicidal ideation, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I’ve never actually used the Suicide Prevention Lifeline but it’s because I literally never think of it when I’m in need. The little smiley face in the top left corner of the box is a happy face I’ve been doodling since I was a kid. I love it, he makes me happy, he’s easy to draw and he had to be included.
On the inside of the lid, I put a quote that has meant a lot to me when dealing with my codependency. With codependency, I am always looking to make sure that everyone else is happy and comfortable in my presence. The part of my brain that works so hard at this is convinced that if I do this, people will like me more and not reject me. And, it’s true, it does work. But, at the same time, that effort generally makes me uncomfortable because I will sacrifice everything for you. That effort is also exhausting and in the end, I don’t show people who I really am, they just see the extremely kind and helpful person I want them to. So, I put this quote inside the lid. Now, when I open the box, one of my most important coping skills is staring me in the face.
I painted this on the bottom of the box. And I did it for two very specific reasons. The first is simple. I love it. In my opinion it’s one of the most accurate representations of the struggles the mentally ill go through. The second reason is directly related to the first. Because I love this so much, I feel I’ll be more inclined to pick up the box and look at the picture. Putting the box in my hands is the first step in actually using the box.
As far as the actual coping skills are concerned, I decided to give decoupage a shot. I have to say, it was kind of fun. So, inside my toolbox are all the coping skills I have pulled together so far. There are quite a few. On the backs of these little pieces of wood are blank spaces to write new skills as I find them. I don’t want to have to drag out the craft box, just to write one down.
So, how do I use this thing? Ideally, it’s something I would pull out daily. I could pick a skill or mantra and work with it for the day. And, hopefully, that’s something that I will do. It’s the goal anyway. But, more importantly, I’ve introduced my husband to it. I’ve told him, that when things get hard for me, find the box. Help me go through it. Help me find a skill I feel I can work with at the moment.
When I’m completely out of spoons is the time I need the toolbox the most. But, it’s also the time that I’m least likely to seek it out. Having Joe on alert will hopefully be helpful. Not only to get me using a coping skill, but also to give him a way to feel as though he’s helping. One of the biggest stresses that he has with regard to my mental illnesses is that he can’t DO anything. His feelings of helplessness translate into agitation which my depression feeds on for all the wrong reasons. Now, I’ve created a way for him to help.
Creativity is definitely not my strong suit. But, I have found value in art over the years in dealing with my depressions and I was glad I was able to put it to some use. I’ll never win an award for the artistry, but I really believe that the effort and the idea are solid.
If you had said something to me prior to any inauguration in the past about the certification of electoral votes in Congress, I wouldn’t have know what you were talking about. I’ve never paid too terribly much attention to politics unless something was happening that I very much objected to. However, ever since Trump made that infamous escalator ride, I was engaged.
So, when this year’s certification came around, I was a pro at paying attention (at least as much as you can be with problem bipolar disorder). I had no plans on watching the whole thing. I was going to watch until the first objection, skip the 2 hour debate, and go from there.
Well, what can even be said about what happened next? I watched in horror as the Capitol Building was swamped, climbed and breached. I was watching PBS and listened to a reporter on the phone from inside the Capitol. I could hear the banging of people outside trying to break down doors and listened to the fear in the reporter’s voice. I flipped to CNN and I watched as people broke through, streamed through Statuary Hall and into the Rotunda. I wondered where the police were. I saw some here and there, overrun immediately by the sheer numbers of people. Later, I heard about the officer who was beaten over the head with a fire extinguisher and died. I saw people entering the Senate Chamber, dropping down from balconies and sitting in the President’s chair on the dais. I saw a guy dressed like some kind of animal with horns. I heard a woman had died.
Joe had taken the day off from work to get the outside Christmas lights down. It was a nice day, the next couple were going to be rainy and he wanted to get it done. He ended up glued to the TV with me all day. We ended up having dinner delivered because I didn’t want to stop watching the TV to cook. Neither did he.
We watched till bedtime and left the TV turned on till we finally fell asleep. But, at 1:00 am I was pouring myself coffee, grabbing a pack of smokes and heading to the garage to watch more news coverage. We only get CBS and PBS on the antenna out there, but that was good enough. More pictures of the horror that had happened just 12 hours before. More had died.
I went to my parents’ house around 8 to spend time with my dad, who was sitting alone watching TV. He was upset and I was upset. We may as well be upset together. But, the companionship made us both feel a little better.
Of course, this is the first week that Karen (my therapist) and I had put a new schedule in place. Instead of twice a week, I would go on Wednesday one week and then Monday and Friday the following. Of course, this was a once a Wednesday week and therapy would have to wait another 5 days. Friday, I took off. No news except the morning news, no Facebook no nothing.
Therapy finally comes around today. And, I’m so ready. My bipolar has stayed in check, for which I’m very grateful. I’ve been working on an art project that I’ll be showing you later in the week. I KNOW! I’ve never even talked about working on art projects before, let alone shown one.
The events of this week sadden me. I want the people responsible punished, but doing that will not make me feel better. There are Republicans calling for no punishment for the president as they feel it will divide the country further. My answer to that is twofold. First, if you don’t punish the president for inciting this violence, there is a large part of the population who are going to become even angrier then they are now that this was even allowed to happen in the first place. Second, if it rips apart the Republican Party that’s the party’s fault. Too many have stayed silent for the last four years watching this escalate. Sorry, not sorry.
I hate using this space for politics. I really do. This space is supposed to be my journal of the struggles and successes in the war between my brain and my mind. But, when the politics and news of the day is the only thing taking up space in my head, I must get it out.
Hopefully, I won’t have to do too many more of these.
Normally I don’t use this space for a rant. I try to use my time here figuring things out. But the situation we find ourselves in right now with regard to COVID is pissing me off big time.
First of all…MASKS WORK. There are scientific studies to prove it. There is mountains of anecdotal evidence to prove it. I know there are people out there who are claiming that masks are useless and some go so far as to say that masks are harmful. If masks are harmful, why are they not fighting to save doctors and nurses from this terrible scourge of masks?? If you start to pick at the threads of the “evidence” saying masks don’t work, you will find that it unravels relatively quickly. Telling me that I’m just scared of the virus doesn’t prove the point that masks don’t work. Science proves what works and what doesn’t work and science has proven that masks, when worn correctly and by most of the people, work. Real quick…masks work to protect you from me. I wear it to keep droplets of what could be viral droplets from leaving my mask and getting into your mouth, nose or eyes. If you wear yours, you are protecting everyone around you. Since so many are asymptomatic, masks are crucial.
Second…Stop telling me you don’t have Coronavirus. You don’t know that!!! Your negative test is a snapshot in time. It merely means that you were TESTING negative at the moment they took your blood. It does not mean that the virus is not in you, only that you are not yet contagious. You could start shedding the virus and be contagious hours after you take the test. Then there are the asymptomatic people. These are the folks who have the virus, are contagious but simply have no symptoms so they don’t know they are sick. Think Typhoid Mary. Iceland did a study back when all this started and they found that, from a random sample of people, a full 50% of those who tested positive had no symptoms. None. Yet, they were contagious!
Third…why is it that I can tell your political affiliation by how you are responding to this virus? Seriously. If you think masks are ridiculous and the virus is no worse then the common cold, I can say with a high degree of accuracy that Trump is your man. On the other side Democrats seem to be following the science, wearing their masks and practicing social distancing. You may also be a moderate Republican who doesn’t believe that Trump is the second coming of Jesus Christ. What is the deal with that? How are people so enamored with one man that they will listen to everything he says to the detriment of not only their own health, but the health of those around them? Hydroxychloroquine does not cure COVID. Neither does bleach or sticking a sun lamp up your bum. Whatever you think of him and his policies are your business, not mine. But he is convincing you to risk your life, and mine, in an effort to put a shine on a turd.
Last…how do people not see that all this fighting back against the scientific discoveries about this virus is what is causing things to be so out of control now? One out of every three tests is positive in SC where I live and it’s much much worse in other places. My doctor’s office isn’t seeing patients right now. I have to go to urgent care or the ER. Therapy and psychiatry are virtual. People are dying by the thousands and others simply don’t care. And I’m sorry, but that’s what it seems to come down to. When I mention the deaths, I’m told that it’s a real small percentage of the whole. It’s such a small percentage that it doesn’t matter because it means that they probably won’t die. So they’re good. Never mind the people on ventilators. Never mind the people who are out of work because the virus rampages on. Never mind the people in food lines because they have no jobs because the virus rages on. Never mind the long haulers. Those are people who may never recover enough to hold a job again. So they’ll go on disability and live a life of poverty because someone wouldn’t wear a mask. Have you heard that there are now people who are suffering active psychotic episodes and displaying symptoms of Bipolar Disorder because of the virus? If anyone wants a lecture on what it’s like to have Bipolar Disorder send them my way. I’ll give them an earful. Taking the precautions isn’t just stopping people from getting sick. It’s stopping them from dying, it’s stopping unemployment and hunger, it’s stopping more people from becoming long haulers.
I hate this virus. So. Much. But more then that, I hate that there are people out there who just don’t care enough about the others in their lives to take even the most basic safety precautions.
Wednesday was 7 years to the day that I had to stop working. I was really surprised when I found that out (thank you Facebook memories).
Seven years that I’ve been unemployed. Seven years of disability. Seven years of feeling “less then” because I can’t work. Seven years is a long time to feel like I’m not living my best life. Seven years is a long time to mourn what was. Seven years is too long to do anything that doesn’t make you happy.
I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. It’s too formal and there are too many expectations with “resolving” to do something. I used to resolve to lose weight, but I would go at it like crazy and burn myself out by February. So I just don’t do it anymore. But, I do usually try to find one thing that I’m not happy about and deal with it in some way. Slowly, carefully and with help. That’s what I’m doing this year with this damn work thing.
I’ve been working on Radical Acceptance for a very long time. If you’re not familiar, Radical Acceptance is (in a nutshell) accepting that something is what it is, even if you don’t like it. To be honest, I thought I had it nailed. It doesn’t really sound that hard. I accept that I can’t work and I don’t like it and that’s ok. And, by saying this, I really thought that I had done the Radical Acceptance thing with this particular problem.
But, the fact that it still bothers me as much as it does, tells me that I’ve accepted nothing about this particular situation. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I do accept that I’m too damn tired to work. But I don’t attribute that to bipolar, I attribute that to laziness. But something in the back of my brain tells me that laziness isn’t really the problem. The bipolar is the problem. The inability to hold onto a mood for lengths of time isn’t laziness. The exhaustion isn’t laziness. That’s all owned by the bipolar.
I talked with my therapist about this again yesterday. We’ve been discussing my (lack of) work situation on and off for 7 years, but a little more often lately. Same with Radical Acceptance. I’ve been doing somewhat better with this struggle this year because, well, COVID. The lockdowns and the endless pleas for us to go nowhere we don’t have to and see no one we don’t have to are a homebody’s dream. Don’t get me wrong. I hate COVID so much. But, not being allowed to go anywhere was no big deal for me. And if I had a job, I would have been forced to go and that would have pissed me off.
Before COVID, I was working as a volunteer at a Resource Center. I was providing food, clothing, diapers and other necessary stuff to the homeless and the poor. But I had a falling out with the owner of the place over how to treat clients. I thought he should be nicer. He was getting very political with the place which I hated and he was starting to act like people shouldn’t complain because it was free. But, I’m sorry, if I go through a food line and the bananas are bad, I’m going to let you know. So I left there. My goal was to chill until the new year and then find another opportunity. So, it’s the new year and I have no idea what to do with myself. And, because I have nothing to do outside of the house I’m starting to attribute that to the aforementioned laziness.
But, that’s not it. My therapist was very clear about that. She does not believe that I should be working and quite frankly, neither does my psychiatrist. But, I’m having a terrible time reversing my beliefs about myself. Beliefs I have held since I was a child. Work hard, make money, have fun, rinse and repeat. I wrapped my work ethic around me like a safety blanket and never considered a point in time when working wouldn’t be part of my life. And, if I did consider what could happen if I suddenly found myself rich, I was always working 60 hours a week for a charity. Now, that security blanket is gone and I have nothing to replace it with.
I have a possible lead on a new charity job very similar to the one I was doing. But, I know in my heart that I can’t be gung ho with this new opportunity. It can only be a few hours a day for a few days a week. I have to suppress my natural urges to become invaluable and know everything that is going on at all times. I have to remember not to volunteer to run large events (or small events for that matter). I have to be a background player. And I don’t like to be a background player. The work is still fulfilling for what we are doing to help people, but at the same time, not fulfilling, because I won’t be living up to my full potential.
But, isn’t this all about how my full potential looks significantly different then it used to? That is the whole problem. The thing I’m unwilling to give up is the thing I have to give up if I want a chance at living my best happiest life.
It’s time to start working on Radical Acceptance again. To find out how I accept, in any way, that my full potential no longer looks like what it used to. I’m sure this is going to entail me somehow figuring out how to accept myself at less then full potential and be generally ok with it.