Tag Archives: Health

steering my boat


This is as complete of a story as I can make of some things that I have either done or have had happen to me in the last couple of months since I last posted my rant about psychiatrists, medications, and mental health in America.  Since that post, it’s pretty easy to break time down into three main chunks: that last post until 7/11, 7/11-22, and 7/22 to now, 8/23.

Between my last post and 7/11, I basically ranted and raved on Twitter about the various mental health-related injustices of the world and researched that and related topics until I had circled back to The Icarus Project, the first serious alternative mental healthcare website I ever ran across.  They’re often classified as anti-psychiatry, but they’re just highly critical of psychiatry.  As am I now.  I need meds: I’m not stupid and I’m aware enough of my mental and emotional processes to understand that I need chemical help from time to time.  But not to the extent that Western psychiatry insists I do.  Nor should many of the thoughts and thought processes I have be dismissed as pathological.

Around the same time, a terrible old feeling set in, the sensation that “every day is exactly the same” that I had for at least four years, if not more.  I had been taking an antipsychotic fairly regularly for about 3 weeks, at first for sleep problems, then for anxiety, then just for basic mood maintenance.  That sucker kicked in and life ground to a halt, just like it had been the year before when I was taking meds I didn’t need.  After three days of joyless existence, I said, “Oh hell no, we’re not doing this shit again,” and I threw two meds in the trash after making sure I wasn’t taking a dose high enough to require tapering (I wasn’t).  Luckily I was using a mood tracker by then, so it was easy to quickly identify what was wrong.  I also shot off an email to my old acupuncturist in the hopes she could help.

Serendipitously, pretty much at the same time I decided to take a different approach to treating my mental illness, my oldest and best friend sent me a link on 7/11 to a regrettably now-deceased gentleman who had had a very similar experience to mine.  A couple of clicks later and I found myself at the ACISTE website: the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences.  That pretty much kicked a door wide open and I spent the next few days reading about things like spiritual crisis, spiritual emergence, spiritual awakening, kundalini awakening, and several related topics.  I looked at the list of bipolar/mania symptoms and compared it to the list of typical “awakening” symptoms, and there was no comparison.  A skeptical psychiatrist would accuse me of seeing what I want to see, obscured by faulty mental processes, but I’ve got a really strong reality check in the form of a well-rounded and intelligent yet open-minded husband who has no problem telling me if I’ve got a really wacky idea, and that’s not the feedback I was getting.

7/17 began like most days, but it was pretty clear by mid-morning that my mind had taken off on a journey of its own, though not like the one it went on in May.  I took note of it with more than a bit of alarm, but I felt pretty good and fairly grounded.  I sent an email to X letting him know what was going on upstairs with the admonition DO NOT CALL MY SHRINK.  I DO NOT NEED HIS HELP YET.  I did ask him to call the pharmacy and refill one of my scrips, though, just in case.

The details of the next five days are important, but I’m still sorting them out, and they’re very personal, so I’m not willing to share much from all that, except to say that I had a divine encounter, and no one can tell me otherwise.  Anyone who wants to argue with me needs to watch Contact and then we can talk.  Just be prepared for a lengthy discussion about Occam’s Razor.

I will say this, though: you know that scene in The Matrix where Tank plugs Neo in for the first time and teaches him ju-jitsu in five seconds?  That pained face followed by “holy shit I’ll have some more of that please”?  It was a lot like that.  While surfing.  Now I’m on shore emptying my head as fast as I can, and learning to accept that I will never, ever be able to chase every ball that my brain spits out.  As such, I’m learning to be selective about which balls to chase, knowing that if I let one go, if it’s really important I’ll circle back to it, or it to me.  It also means I’m glued to my phone most of the time, because at the moment I need access to one of my apps to record my thoughts, pictures, photos, etc., or just to listen to music or something else audio: my ambient environment has become exceedingly important to me after ignoring it for…I don’t know how long.

My little trip was over by 7/23, and I pretty much took the week off.  I didn’t tweet, I didn’t blog, and at the time I had not yet resumed the practice of keeping a daily document, something I began in June and promptly dropped around the same time as my last blog post, though I was tweeting madly at the time so there’s a record of my thoughts until 7/17.  I was reading, though, mostly topics I was once familiar with but had abandoned long ago: magick, witchcraft, and astrology, mostly, with a heaping helping of Hinduism and a dash of Buddhism, largely set in a Jungian structure that I shaped to my own purposes.  My spiritual framework is, um, eclectic and syncretic, to say the least.  There’s something to offend and/or please everyone in my world, depending on their viewpoint.  Monotheists?  Well, we need to talk about dualism, but sure.  Polytheists?  Ah, my people!  Agnostics? Would love to chat.  Atheists?  If you’re one of those dickhead atheists that is basically a fundamentalist without belief, then no, not unless you’re willing to talk about how you missed the point and wound up right back at dogma.  Good work.  Witches?  I’ll see you folks in October, it’s been too long.  Magicians?  See the witches, but if one of you can talk chaos, we need to sit down.  Did I miss anyone?

By the end of that week, I was back to “okay, I must write some of this stuff down before I forget it” and resumed daily writing on August 1, Lughnasadh.  I’ve managed to write something, sometimes a lot, almost every day since then.  I have a lot of mental energy in the morning, so I get up, usually with X around 7am, make coffee, listen to music and fiddle with my phone while I wait for it, sit outside and smoke and either think or fiddle with my phone some more, and until this past Monday, then I went back upstairs and sat in bed and worked all morning until lunch, ate, then did less mentally strenuous stuff in the afternoon unless my brain was on a roll I couldn’t stop, a common situation I’m working to address.  I also try not to “work” in the evenings, again, unless my brain just will not shut up, in which case I’ve gotten used to watching/not-watching a movie or show while I take notes and do stuff on my phone.

I had already undertaken the task of creating a timeline using Facebook, Twitter, emails, and blog posts to reconstruct, as best as I could, my mental state since October of last year, which was when I first posted after months of silence, but before I had stopped taking the most offending meds.  I had also begun the daunting but fascinating task of looking at the astrological transits for certain important dates.  That would turn out to be a very eye-opening exercise.  Let’s just say I no longer doubt the validity of astrology, though I’m willing to bet I don’t use it the way most astrologers do, not entirely.  That’s another post, though.

After a few days of sorting, collating, collecting, and condensing data from various sources, I had enough information to spit out a bullet list of important points.  I showed it to X and he was like, “hmmm, that needs fleshing out”.  Right.  I kept at it, being slightly desperate to share my experience with someone, as I had been fairly tight-lipped about the inner goings-on of my head.  At the same time, I was anticipating my next shrink appointment and wondering what in the hell to tell him.  I couldn’t figure that out until I ran it all by X, so one day I did my best to give him the Reader’s Digest version of the previous 2.5 months: seven pages came out.  I waited for his response with a bit of trepidation, really hoping I didn’t get, “honey, we need to talk about your medication”.

I didn’t.  I got, basically, “that’s really beautiful and wonderful and I hope you chase as many balls as you can because that’s great stuff, and you shouldn’t tell ANY of it to your shrink, because he doesn’t care about that and he’ll take it the wrong way”.  Ah, validation two ways.  With that, I was able to silence the ongoing anticipatory argument I kept having in my head with my shrink.

Everything has just kind of shifted and clicked into place since then, and shifts and clicks again every time I get a new tool, or make a new connection, or rediscover something old I left behind for whatever reason.  I sort of feel like part of me has been keeping an eye on myself for a really long time, and whenever I dropped something important, it would pick it back up and tuck it into my subconscious for safekeeping, knowing I’d need it one day.  When I need something, I don’t have to look too hard for it, if at all (with the exception of my truck title, but that’s another story).  Typically I’ve already encountered it and just need to remember it, or it’s something I’m already using and need to look at in a different way.  Sometimes it’s a book.  Sometimes it’s a movie.

Sometimes it’s a person.

At some point during the last couple of weeks and doing my best to record the not-always-predictable stream of thoughts in my head, I was like, “okay, I have to find someone to talk to about this stuff”.  I started wondering about local therapists that wouldn’t immediately throw me out of their office and send me back to my shrink, and one of my old therapists from when I went to the local sliding scale clinic popped into my head, and not for the first time since I stopped seeing him five years ago.  “THAT GUY” I said.  Okay.  So I sent an email with the hopes that he would remember me, and he did.  He also had biweekly appointments available on Wednesday mornings.  Perfect.  I’ll save my first visit for a separate post, but I feel fairly confident in saying that I have found the right person to be my guide for the time being, something that just about every awakening forum on the internet says you should do.  He seems to speak all my languages, and that’s a really tall order right now.

At the moment, I’m trying not to get lost in the details or burden myself with too many tools.  “Keep it simple” really is my motto right now, and if I’m trying to organize something and it’s in groups of more than four, I know I need to scale it back.  I try to start with two.  Too much?  Fine, just use one.  Once I can handle two of something, I move onto three.  Then four.  Those are pretty much my instructions from the Universe, for lack of a better term, for the foreseeable future, which really grates against a couple of parts of me, but there’s that whole “trust the process” thing, so I’m just going with it.  Most of my anxiety and impatience comes from a practical perspective.  X has been the main breadwinner for a damn long time, and since I began slowly checking out one psyche aspect at a time beginning ???, he has slowly done his best to take over the running of the house and caring of the family.  It’s high time he had some help, especially if we have any hope of having a decent retirement and not working ourselves into the grave.  But that’s way, way in the future and I’m not supposed to think that far ahead, so I just have to pull back sometimes and go back to contemplating things and putting them together.  My head is working on something.  I don’t know what it is yet, but I know what it’s made of, so I’m pretty sure the result will be pretty interesting, and it will come along at the right time.  Somewhere down the line, maybe sooner than I need but probably longer than I want, everything unfolds.

Until then, I start each day with either passive or active excitement for what the day might bring.  Sometimes I have a plan and wake up all ready to go, or even before I’m ready to go, like yesterday when I woke up at 2:30am for no good reason despite being dog-tired.  Other days I’m just open to whatever comes.

At the moment, I see my internal thoughtstream like a river flowing through a forested mountain range.  Each day I get up and hop into my mental boat and push off.  Some days I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I don’t always wind up there.  Rarely, in fact.  So often that I have largely abandoned that mindset and just start paddling.  I make notes and observations as I go.  Some days the trip is fairly placid and occasionally even boring, but not usually.  Sometimes the river is merely a passive vehicle and my job is to observe the scenery.  Other days the river is turbulent and I have to pay more attention to it than what’s around me if I don’t want to capsize.  Some days are like today: the river is very slow and wide with a lot of eddies along the banks to get stuck in: those are frustrating days.  Sometimes I’m in unfamiliar territory I don’t recognize.  And sometimes I can’t find a safe place on the shore to park my boat for the night so I can get some sleep, so I stay there.  I don’t like sitting still so I usually just keep paddling.  Those are the nights I wake up early, if I ever went to sleep, and just think, surf, read, take notes, watch YouTube, and generally follow my desires.  A potentially bad time is when the river is flowing so swiftly I can’t reach the bank, and I just have to ride it until the current slows and hope the rapids aren’t too bad and the rocks are few.  And it always does eventually.  If it doesn’t, I have “dams” up and downstream to control the waterflow, with meditation and other tools, and block it if utterly necessary with drugs.  Most of the time, though, I am happy to hop into my mental boat, even excited on occasion.

Every now and then I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m not getting on the river today,” and that is totally fine.  I may be under the guidance of divine influences, but I’m the one in control of this ride (mostly), and if I don’t want to ride that day, most of the time I don’t have to.  Sometimes, though, my psyche is like, “Ok, come on, let’s go, we’re going on a trip. Nope, not telling you where we’re going, just sit down, shut up, and hang on.  And pay attention, there’ll be a quiz.”  I just sigh internally, reach down and tighten the laces on the combat boots my inner self is still wearing from 1995, and get in.

Working on myself is fun, but it’s hard.  There’s a lot of locks to pick in here.  And secret passageways.  And the occasional booby trap, though since I’m the one that made them, they can’t really hurt me.  All they do is slam the door shut and send me back to where I was.  It just means I’m not ready to look there yet.  It’s all good, everything circles back around eventually.  For now, my psyche has a torch, a key, and a dog, and that’s pretty much all I need.  She wanders, I observe and take notes, and at some point we get together and see what we have.  Right now I’ve got an assload of really interesting data that doesn’t pull together to really go anywhere solid, but I have total faith that a pattern will emerge.  Scientists laughed at pilots for two decades before admitting the existence of the jet stream.  Just because I see something others don’t doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I leave you with my favorite quote for the week from Matrix: Reloaded

We can never see past the choices we don’t understand. – The Oracle

A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

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?

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.

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.