Category Archives: Health

Week From Hell


Well, it has been one hell of a week, lemme tellya.  Hell of a month, really, but things really came to a head this past week.  I went from being pretty damned happy, though not too happy I don’t think, yet still suffering from physical effects of mania, not mental ones, to being pharmaceutically dragged from my lofty perch to very unnecessary depths which actually still left my brain way up where my doctor was trying to get it down from, and that was not the right approach.  All he did was induce what psychology calls a “mixed state”, something seemingly unique to bipolar disorder in which the various aspects of the body, mind, and soul/psyche fail to operate at the same speed anymore. Instead of bringing me back down to what he considered Earth, he threw me way out of equilibrium and as a result very nearly made me suicidal.

Which leads me to the same conclusion I made while I was having my psychotic break a month ago and was observing parts of the Universe as well as the inner mind that led me to an irrefutable, to me, truth: psychs, therapists, and shrinks are fucking with shit they do NOT understand.  Not enough, anyway, for way too many of us. If they knew as much as they like to pretend they do, then we would not have this problem we have today of both medical psychiatric practitioners as well as therapeutic practitioners doing the equivalent of playing darts with drugs and therapies until they find something that sticks.  Sometimes this works out really well, like with my kid, who was given the right antidepressant and anxiolytic the first time out. He got super lucky. A lot of people don’t.

So my husband and I along with my shrink have been discussing/arguing over what to do about the “crash” I experienced a few days ago as well as how to address what has been both correctly yet incorrectly viewed as my suffering from “mania”.  Mostly they discuss and then present what they think to me, and then I argue, because I haven’t made myself clear to either one of them, particularly my shrink. Yes, my physical being has been in a high state of mania that has prevented basic things like sleeping and eating enough.  However, my mental activities when I was awake, which were very focused but not uninterruptible, were actually operating on a pretty normal level for perhaps the first time in my life. I was pretty happy, but not excessively so, and I was busy, but not excessively so, and I was re-experiencing things like writing, sex, and dancing, again, not excessively so.  Except perhaps the sex but quite frankly after my husband I having not had decent sex in probably five years if not more, I think I can be forgiven for wanting to make up for lost time.

Unfortunately, my first visit to my shrink was just a few days after I really began to spiral out of control, and just before my actual psychotic break, which lasted about a day or so, to my admittedly fuzzy memory.  At this visit he put me on a brand-new antipsychotic (and therefore horribly expensive so he was giving us samples) as well as an anti-anxiety agent that has been used for a very long time, although its use as such is off-label.  He said both were very mild and would not result in a screeching halt to my thought processes or a hammer to the psyche. That sounded good to me, because part of me was enjoying the intellectual and other epiphanies I was experiencing as my brain spiraled out of control.  And I know that’s a danger of bipolar disorder: getting hooked on that amazingly creative and introspective state of mind that allows for truly genius connections. So I was happy to take something that would supposedly not seriously affect that state of mind but allow me to establish some control over the speed of the mental vehicle.

However, since I was essentially not yet finished with the process that brought me to his office, at least one of his prescriptions was very premature.  Fortunately since it was slow-acting, it didn’t interrupt the major central transformative and healing process that took place over probably a week, culminating in a night of panic attacks that forced me to reconnect with the one person in my vicinity: my husband.  I hate to say “forced” because that makes it sound like it was an unwilling activity on my part, but that’s not true. While the panic was awful, it allowed me to pierce straight through all those shit-colored lenses of perception that had been laid over my “eyes” over varying amounts of time and from different life situations, and be able to SEE my husband for who he really was, the main message of whom during that panicky night was “I’m safe, I won’t hurt you.”  Which was demonstrated repeatedly over the night as my brain over and over again left my body and then snapped back in a state of utter terror and confusion.

By the time I woke up in the morning, all, and I do mean all, of the negative baggage that I had un/subconsciously projected against him had fallen away.  And that baggage and its associated lenses of perception had also fallen away from other aspects of my life, largely involving my kid and therefore many parts of my own childhood.  My thoughts and emotions were no longer so far away that they could not be controlled, so it was much, much easier to avoid negative states of mind that I had previously been ruled by for decades and that caused me to behave in…very unpleasant ways, especially towards my child.

Now it did take a couple of days to get a handle on those newfound, much closer emotions, though I never got angry like I had before.  If anything, I was able to tell when anger might be approaching, grab it before it got too far, identify it, and be able to do something such as say to my kid, “Hey, you’re doing something I’ve asked you not to do repeatedly, yet you’re still doing it, and if you don’t stop I’m going to really lose it on you and I know you hate that, and I hate it, so let’s not go there, okay?  Just do what needs to be done.”

And lo and behold, when presented very directly yet kindly, sometimes sternly, in my newfound non-angry Mom Voice, he would usually blink or nod and go do whatever I wanted him to do, or not do, depending on the situation.  It even worked on my nephew, who is very neurodivergent and much of his behavior is based in unpredictable chaos, so it’s hard to get through to him. I did, though, much to I think both of our relief.

And thus I spent a couple of really wonderful weeks actually enjoying true happiness, although because I was essentially like a newborn baby, I had to re-experience things like food, which was really weird for a while and still is sometimes.  I still haven’t eaten anything sweet besides my coffee and pumpkin bread, or had any soda. I discovered dancing, and then I couldn’t stop bringing my phone everywhere to listen to music and dance, though it was usually dancing in my kitchen waiting for my coffee to brew.  I spent days listening to music and making YouTube and Spotify playlists not just for myself, but for a larger project I had in mind, and still do. I brushed off my blog, picked a new theme, and started organizing it while I wrote new blog posts about my experience. No, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and food intake, while improving, was still on the low side.  I was also smoking a lot and drinking a lot of coffee, but honestly that’s not so unusual for a writer and as far as I’m concerned is a minor problem I can tackle later.

Then the antipsychotic that my shrink gave me at that first visit started to kick in, rather slowly at first, but then plunging me into darkness much like the first hill on a roller coaster.  Only I wasn’t coming back up like the roller coaster does. I ground to a near halt, spending two nights in a row crying into my food in the middle of crowded restaurants because that window to happiness had been painted black and the door nailed shut, cutting me off from the writing, the dancing, and most importantly, the sex.  All of it, just gone in the space of about 24 hours. I felt like the world’s most cruel joke had been played on me and while I did not find myself contemplating suicide, that big black door that represents it was sitting RIGHT THERE. I took a look at that fucker, as did my Inner Voice which to me had been squelched, and they both went “nope”, and went to bed with every intention of staying there until this horrible wave passed and/or something was done about the medication regimen.  I had never, not once, been so sad and unhappy, and damn that is saying a LOT.

To make things even worse, the “crash” had done absolutely nothing about the perceived primary issues of my supposed “mania”: the lack of sleep and the poor eating.  It was like someone had set demolition charges to blow up a certain section of a building only to find that when the detonation occurred, unforeseen connections in the building’s infrastructure nearly caused the whole thing to collapse, with me in it!

Fortunately I am not a building, I’m a person, and I know my brain can heal itself under the right circumstances.  Yet I was going to have to go through several days of discussing/arguing with my shrink over how best to treat this “crash”.  And pretty much everything he recommended went way against my Inner Voice and how I thought this should be approached, and in my newly agitated state of mind I typically reacted angrily about it.  He wanted to increase the antipsychotic and have me start retaking another drug that had been one of the direct causes of several years of my life during which “every day is exactly the same”, to use the Nine Inch Nails song.  And it was true. “I believe I can see the future, because I repeat the same routine” was my mantra for years, and I will not tell you about the disgusting and filthy state of affairs I allowed my body, clothes, and general surroundings to descend into while I was in that state of mind.  I.DID.NOT.CARE.

Fortunately I had railed to my husband about that particular drug and what it did to me and he was able to convey that to my shrink without my having to go into it, and at least on the phone he said that was fine.  And I was befuddled and angered by the suggestion that I increase the dosage on the antipsychotic, which we had previously DEcreased because of side effects and did not seem to be doing what we wanted it to. To my mind’s Inner guiding Voice, none of this made rational sense, and it had been keeping a very careful watch on me during the entire process, so I was very reluctant to ignore it.

I was very angry and panicky for a few days after the crash because I was repeatedly being given untenable options for how to deal with it, much to my husband’s consternation, who was having trouble dealing with not only my anger, but my growing inability to properly communicate my thoughts and feelings because of the rising panic.  I could not talk to my shrink on the phone because a) I knew I’d get into an irrational state with him because b) he was going to try to argue with me based on his perception that I was not thinking clearly, and I knew for a fact that I was, unless I was being actively panicky.

Friday I was prescribed two more drugs that I was trepidatious-bordering on-angry about, another antipsychotic for sleep that I had taken before and gotten bad muscle twitches from, and a common mood stabilizer that I had said many times before that I would never take again.  That particular day had started out relatively okay, but grew into depression as the day wore on, and rage when I noticed how much of one of the drugs he had prescribed to me. I had been emailing him the entire time, and I wondered if he had even read them, seeing as how he seemed to be doing the exact opposite of what I wanted or needed him to.  I was tired and wanted to go to bed, so I angrily took my meds, even the new one, and stomped upstairs where I blew up at my husband again, not because I was angry at him, but just because I was angry, as well as frightened and confused.

As we drifted off to sleep, he said he had some ideas he wanted to talk about in the morning about my mental state and the drugs I was taking.  I agreed and we went to sleep.

In the morning, I had indeed slept for several hours in a row, but my back hurt terribly because I don’t think I ever moved, my mouth was dry as the damned Sahara, and I was very groggy from the additional antipsychotic I had been given for sleep.  I decided right then and there that that would be an on occasion only drug to be used only when I had too many nights in a row without adequate sleep.

My husband I attempted to create a timeline for the drugs I had taken over the years along with start and stop dates, and dates of onset for different mental states I had experienced.  It was very clear almost immediately which drugs were responsible for what, which my Inner Voice and I had already suspected and were merely confirming. We did the same for the much shorter time span beginning late last year when I began ending taking those drugs one at a time, and again for the time span of the last month that began with my spiral on May 21.

The long and the short of it was that my experience was being misinterpreted and therefore mistreated, much to my detriment.  Amazingly, at the same time, my shrink answered an email I had written the day before, in which he AGAIN tried to convince me that I needed to increase the antipsychotic and add a mood stabilizer, his favorite of which was the “every day is exactly the same” drug.

I didn’t lose it this time, though I was rather incredulous.  However, since my husband and I had been nailing all this shit down all morning, I was able to craft a “good morning and good timing” email in which I laid out much of what you just read, but not before making the statement that no, I would not be taking that particular drug anymore, I would not take the other drug again, and the other new/old drug he gave me would not be taken in as high a dose as he wanted me to, at least not yet.  I would also be treating the sleep meds much more carefully. I also rejected his assertion that I needed a mood stabilizer, but said I was willing to discuss it.

I didn’t put him down or yell at him or express any of the other negativity that my knee-jerk reactions were producing towards him earlier in the week, I just laid it all out as simply as I could that he did not understand what happened to me, and was therefore mistreating it, dangerously so.

It’s the weekend and he doesn’t like email, so I do not expect a reply until my visit with him on Tuesday, at which point we’ll find out whether he accepts what he read and is willing to respect my autonomy and newfound knowledge and experience, or if he persists in wanting me to take drugs that I am pretty damned sure will NOT help me.

And this is the power struggle that so many mentally ill/neurodivergent people in crisis find themselves in, and regrettably a lot of them do not seem to have the internal cogence that I do that allows me to be able to determine which drugs are good for me and which ones are bad.  And there is the further problem of potentially not being taken seriously because it is assumed that because you have X disorder and/or are in crisis, you are therefore incapable of thinking rationally. And at least for me, that’s bullshit.

That may indeed be the case for a lot of people, and I can even see where it might apply to myself in the right circumstances, but that would require a profound loss of my ethical, rational, and logical mental structures again that I do not think will happen, as that baggage has been processed now.  My breakdown served a huge purpose which has been largely fulfilled, leaving me with so much energy and fodder for further exploration that I will be happily busy writing for quite some time, provided that ending taking that one drug has the intended result, which I believe it will, since it’s not even doing what it’s supposed to be doing in the first place.  Sorry, FAIL. Next!

My huge fears right now are that a) the ability to dance never returns, which is vastly overshadowed by the fear that b) my libido, finally recaptured and then cruelly yanked away again, never returns.  My Inner Voice tries to tell me that won’t happen, though, that I just have to wait for this shit to wear off, which might take a few weeks, and that I will indeed be able to dance and enjoy sex again. And I admit that itself may actually take another drug of some sort, although I hope not.  I have discovered that my physical body, which underwent some really amazing and strange changes that I will have to write about to be believed, along with my mind/soul/psyche, are in careful balance that are dependent on another, much like the orbit of the planets in the Solar System. Fuck with one, and the entire system goes to shit.  Ask any astronomer what the Earth would be like without the Moon. TL;DR – bad, bad things that would likely prevent the formation of life on the planet in the first place. Let’s not even discuss what would happen if there were no Jupiter.

I am no different.  Part of psychology and psychiatry’s problem is that it often treats what is wrong in the brain while failing to address or even acknowledge the elephant in the room that carries it: the rest of the human body.  Which is probably why we have so many psychiatric drugs that carry profound physical symptoms, many of which are unbearable to the user. It’s a terrible and, to me, unacceptable tradeoff that I will no longer engage in, even if I’m back to eating bananas and only sleeping for two hours at a time, because I know that state of mind/body will not last forever and while it may look wrong from the outside, dammit I’m happy!  No, not TOO happy, just happy, and true happiness has been so rare in my life it’s hard to describe.

If you could walk in my life’s shoes, not only would you stumble in my footsteps, you’d crawl back to me on your hands and knees, bleeding, scarred, and sobbing for me to take my shoes back.  And then maybe you would understand what I will and will not sacrifice for this long-fought for happiness, and why I was so upset that it and vital parts of it were ripped away from me almost as I was just beginning to enjoy them.

Me and my baby soul still have a website and its menus to wrangle, and blog posts to finish that were started over the last few weeks.  In the meantime I just have to check in with my Inner Voice, aka The Goddess, and get reassured that things will return to my new normal, not someone else’s.

Swimming in Glue


I recently stopped taking one of my drugs that my shrink has actually been trying to get me off of for some time now.  I’m not now entirely sure why I was so resistant, in hindsight.  When I first started taking it, I think it was doing me some good.  But after a while, it had the effect of laying a thick layer of cobweb over everything in my life, inside and out.  I didn’t notice it at the time because there were other forces in my life that were essentially doing the same thing.  So it was kind of a double whammy, mentally.

I don’t remember exactly when I started taking this particular drug, but I’m willing to guess it was around four years ago, because that’s when all of my online activity that amounted to anything more than a Facebook post came to a screeching halt.  I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.  I was mute.  I thought it was just a result of the bipolar disorder or the OCD or PTSD or anything else that is wrong with my brain.  And I do think those things have a muting effect on me.  But not to this extent.  What had been an annoyance had turned into a serious problem.

I couldn’t meditate anymore because I couldn’t focus or concentrate, both of which you actually need to “empty your mind”.  I didn’t write anymore or go anywhere because I didn’t have anything to say.  All I could do was parrot back whatever was on my Facebook feed, I’m sure to the annoyance of my friends.  I know I got unfollowed by at least a few people because all I was doing was echoing the background noise of the social network without really adding anything to it.  I didn’t do art anymore because I had absolutely zero desire or passion to create anything (still working on that one: I’m hopeful it will come back).

So I spent four years reading Facebook, reading the news, reading Wikipedia, or watching a tv show or movie.  After about a year, I stopped getting dressed.  I just stayed in my robe all day.  I didn’t see the point of getting dressed if I wasn’t going anywhere.  If I was going to be numb, I was going to be comfortably so.  I grew to accept my fate, that I would just live out my days on social media and watching tv and movies until I either keeled over at home or had to be wheeled into a nursing home.

Then I ran out of that drug, and I didn’t feel particularly bothered to refill it for a couple of weeks.  Around that same time, I began to realize I didn’t feel DEAD inside.  I was enjoying my shows more, actually engaging with them rather than just using them as a way to fill the time until I could go to sleep again.  I was also less likely to doze off while watching said shows and movies.  I got it refilled, but I decided not to take it unless I was having what I call a “hamster wheel” day, which is when thoughts get trapped and just go around and around like hamsters on a wheel.  It doesn’t happen very often and it’s not like anything bad happens when it does, but it’s an unpleasant state of mind, the brakes upon which can be applied with judicious use of the right drugs.

I guess about a week ago, I became more interested in Facebook again.  I hadn’t really been on in quite some time: I had been watching tv shows and movies almost non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell asleep for months on end.  It was just suddenly much more interesting to me than it had been in a long time.  I started posting again.  Not just reposting stuff from other people and groups, but making longer posts of my own about my own life, not someone else’s.  I felt like interacting again, though not quite enough to get out for parties and social gatherings.  I’ll get there, though.  I am still a hermit at heart, after all.

I really don’t know what happened.  It’s like a switch flipped in my head.  I feel like writing again, which means I actually have something to say, which means my brain is working again after having been in standby mode for the last four years, or longer: I’ve been taking this class of drug since 2011.  I restarted my blog and renamed it and made a Twitter account to go with it and a Facebook group.  Buddhism is interesting to me again.  I had some “a-ha!” moments while reading, of all things, the blog of a Christian pastor over the New Year holiday.  A bunch of things clicked and I suddenly no longer felt the need to be seething in anger at the election of DT (I will not call him “President”, nor will I say his full name: he’s just “DT”).  Not that anger is inherently bad or anything.  It’s an excellent motivator.  So I’m going to stay at least offended by the presence of this narcissistic child in the house recently occupied by someone who is everything DT is not.  But I refuse to allow myself to be filled with hate.  It’s unproductive.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  But that’s another post.

I’m glad my bipolar disorder and other issues aren’t so severe anymore, such that I don’t need such intense medication anymore.  Now that I have this stuff out of my system, I can get back to a mindfulness and meditative practice, both of which were two of many things that just came to a screeching halt in the last few years, which was a pity because of all of the lifestyle changes I had been trying to make, those were the most likely to help me.  I’m not condemning these medications.  They’re life-saving for a lot of people.  And when I was first given them, I was led to believe I needed them, and maybe I did.  But I don’t anymore, and unless something drastic changes with my mental health, I will never take them again.  I still have other meds I have to take, so it’s not like I’m ignorant of my mental health.  I’m just a lot more questioning of what is asked of me by my healthcare professionals.  They may be general experts in their fields, but I am the ONLY expert on this particular body and mind.  I know a lot more about them now and I’ll be sure to take that knowledge with me whenever I have to deal with healthcare workers in the future.

Stigma


I’ve watched the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge with some interest.  At first I didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t clear as to how dumping  buckets of ice water over people’s heads was raising money for ALS.  A friendly discussion enlightened me as to how the awareness had raised millions of dollars, as well as giving people a brief glimpse into how an ALS patient feels.  Both goals of the Ice Bucket Challenge intrigued me, being a sufferer of another sometimes deadly and underfunded disease, bipolar disorder.  I also have friends who suffer from clinical depression.  Was there a way to mimic the effects of that disease, or at least depression?  Mental illness research is underfunded in large part because people don’t understand it, and people always fear what they don’t understand.  If there could be a way to make a neurotypical person understand what it’s like to be depressed, or autistic, or schizophrenic, people might be more sympathetic.

Even if there are ways to simulate the effects of various mental disorders, there still remains the stubborn refusal of a large portion of society to accept that mental illnesses are diseases just like illnesses that cause physical symptoms.  Mental illnesses also have their origins in physical processes: their symptoms just manifest in the mind instead of the body.  And some people do have physical effects because of their mental illness: body aches and pains, fatigue, and clumsiness are just a few.  Yet there are still those who insist that taking medication is a weakling’s solution to a problem that can be fixed with diet and behavior modification.  This attitude typically manifests as, “If you only did more of activity X, you wouldn’t be depressed.”  Part of this problem is perpetuated by the fallacious assumption that most people get depressed.  No, most people get the blues.  Having the blues is an entirely different animal than having clinical depression or other mental illnesses.  Its effects may be somewhat mitigated by diet and lifestyle changes, but you cannot cure mental illness with those things.  Nor is it appropriate to compare the effects of the blues and those of depression.  One is a temporary state of lowering of mood that can generally be affected by making some basic changes in one’s life, while the other is a debilitating state of existence that can generally only be helped with therapy and/or medication, and sometimes even then it is nigh on impossible to get to a place of stability because psych meds work differently on everyone.

It’s bad enough to deal with a public perception of being weak or just lazy, but it’s quite another to deal with unfounded fears fed by mass media.  Tell someone you’re bipolar, and they’re likely to take a step or two back from you, because there’s a societal presumption that bipolar people are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous.  This myth is propogated by media that focuses on the most isolated, sensational stories they can find about mental illness.  Fear of other people’s judgment causes a great number of bipolar people (and those with other mental illnesses) to not say anything to anyone about their illness.  This causes isolation, which is not healthy for people with mental illness, moreso than with neurotypical people.  We need support networks if we’re going to stay healthy and balanced, and we don’t get that if we have to hide.

The only way to combat the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it, which makes most people very uncomfortable.  People don’t like the notion that something could go wrong in their brains that would cause them to behave in abnormal ways.  However irrational, there is still a public perception that mental illness can “catch”.  Which in one way can be true: it can be maddening to deal with the mentally ill.  They display behaviors that neurotypical people classify as things that can be changed with behavior modification and lifestyle changes.  And for most people, that’s true.  An attitude adjustment, a shift in diet, some exercise, and maybe some counseling will set most people back on the path of happiness.  Unfortunately that’s just not true with the mentally ill, some of whom do display behaviors that can frighten others.  People’s fears and assumptions combine in a way that essentially shuns the mentally ill from greater society.

This societal attitude manifests partially as a lack of funding for mental illness research.  Despite being one of the most costly and prevalent causes of missed work and disability, mental illness gets very little attention unless a pharmaceutical company is marketing another antidepressant or antipsychotic.  True research into the causes of mental illness falls far below that of other chronic illnesses.  Until this situation is rectified, mental illness will continue to be one of America’s biggest and least talked about problems.

Prevailing social attitudes are slowly shifting as more people are diagnosed with mental illness and public education increases, but there still remains the stubborn perception of many that the mentally ill are just making excuses for wanting to be lazy, that we could be doing more to “cure” what they don’t see as a legitimate disease, just a fault in the human spirit.  We are asked stupid, rude questions like, “Have you tried not being depressed?”  As if we want to be this way.  Even loved ones of the mentally ill will make erroneous assumptions about someone’s behavior and attribute ALL of a person’s actions to their mental illness, constantly asking them if they’re on their meds.

Public perception of mental illness is unlikely to change until the mass media stops latching onto every isolated incidence of violence that MAY be due to mental illness (and not all are: some people are just mean).  There need to be more stories sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill, that shed light on the various conditions instead of pushing them back into the shadows.  More research needs to be done on the brain to determine the causes of mental illnesses so that they can be treated more effectively.

I do my part by writing these blog entries (that very few people probably read) and not letting my shame and embarrassment about being mentally ill impede my ability to write and talk about how my illness affects me.  I have a zero tolerance policy with people that treat me with kid gloves or avoid me because I’m bipolar.  Fortunately, I have friends with mental illness, and my friends who don’t are very supportive, educated, and understanding.  Not all people are so lucky, though.  It’s those people who need our help the most.

If you know someone with mental illness, in particular one of the more misunderstood ones like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, don’t be afraid of them.  If they’re doing things that frighten or upset you, tell them: they may have no idea that they’re misbehaving.  Talk to them about their disease and ask them how it affects them.  It will help ease your own fears and make the other person feel understood and not so alone.  If they’re unable to talk to you about their disease, do your own research.  Be a good advocate for their health, and if they’re a danger to themselves or someone else, don’t be afraid to call the police if they’re unresponsive to communication.  Most of them will thank you for your concern afterwards.  The ones who don’t are in some ways the people that deserve our sympathy and understanding the most, for they are living in hell.  That is probably the most important thing for neurotypicals to understand about the mentally ill: we do live in hell and would probably cut off limbs to be right in the head again.  We don’t want to be this way, and most of us are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of our illness.

I leave you with this handy graphic that will hopefully illustrate how silly it is the way we treat people with mental illness.

Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

Changes


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

Clean(er) Slate


When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.

Clean Slate


It’s been “make a change” week in my life.  I’ve had several changes I’ve wanted to make in my life for quite some time now.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I’m feeling pressed for time on some of them, as though if I don’t get them implemented now, they’ll never get done.  Such as a decent exercise habit.  I know that it will just get harder and harder to establish the older I get.

In that spirit, I signed up for the Sea Change program run by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame.  There’s a new module each month of a habit to slowly change over the month, the idea being to very gradually introduce a change into your life so that it’s more easily integrated and accepted.  People usually try to do changes too quickly or in chunks that are too big, so they fail (I wouldn’t know anything about that).  This is supposed to mitigate a lot of that.  March’s module is meditation: I’m looking forward to that since meditation is something I’ve wanted to integrate into my life for a very long time indeed.

I also signed up for a 90-day weight loss challenge at my gym.  There’s a new thing to try out every Tuesday, as well as a chance to weigh in, so that adds a little bit of accountability and incentive to my goal of getting more exercise and losing some weight.  Altering my eating habits is also crucial to this being successful, so I’ll be doing February’s Sea Change module on healthy eating as well (I signed up halfway through the month so I decided to start at the beginning of March).  The changes are small enough that I think I can do meditation and healthy eating at the same time.

And of course, I’m also doing Spiritual Nomad.  I didn’t mean to do three things at once, but that’s just kind of how it turned out.  I’m good at following prescribed courses, though, so I don’t think it will be a problem.  These are all programs that I enjoy too, so that will help.

It also helps that I’m really wanting to make changes right now.  I’m pretty tired of some of the patterns of my life and would really like a clean slate to work from.  I have a lot of unnecessary negative thought patterns I need to shake loose from that are holding me back.  I’m hoping that a lot of them will fall by the wayside as I make my way through altering negative patterns into positive ones.

It’s going to be difficult in some ways, though.  If I want to meditate, I’m going to have to get up earlier, something that has been perennially very difficult for me.  I’m very attached to my waking time and sleeping patterns, and to a certain extent that’s very healthy for me since it’s important for bipolar people to have steady sleeping habits.

My biggest challenge will be in not trying to make too many changes at one time, which I’m already in danger of violating.  I tend to get all fired up about making changes in my life and then sputter out after a while.  However, some spark of what I was doing usually remains, and I’ve slowly built on desired changes over the years.  I do some yoga, not none, and I managed to quit smoking a couple of years ago.  I also exercise more today than I did a few years ago and I eat healthier.  Overall I’ve effected some pretty positive changes in my life over the last few years.  All I want to do is keep that going, and perhaps speed up the pace a bit.

So here’s to change!  And all the new and wonderful things it can bring.