Tag Archives: psychology

Choked


Something that almost no one knows about me is that I like to sing, and that I have a really good singing voice.  I used to sing with a choir, but that kind of singing didn’t really touch me deep down, though I thought the songs were lovely and I enjoyed singing them.  Also, my voice was not drowned out by the others, but was part of a greater whole in which my own voice could not be individually sussed out.  I liked it that way.

I’m so self-conscious that I’m even afraid of expressing myself when I’m BY myself.  I sing in my truck when I’m driving all the time, but the music is usually loud enough that I either can’t hear myself very well, or my voice is part of the music, like when I was in the choir.  My voice reduces in volume automatically when the music’s volume goes down.  I’m afraid to hear myself for some reason.  It’s the same reason I can’t dance.  There’s something about that kind of free and open expression that makes me very afraid.  I think it’s because those kinds of expression must be full-on.  You can’t be fettered by self-consciousness or doubt or anything else negative in order to do those things to their fullest extent.  And for whatever reason, I am severely hampered by shyness and fear when it comes to things like dancing and singing.  I can do them to a certain extent when I’m inebriated, which makes me understand why so many performers are substance abusers.  It’s the only way they can get up there and do their thing.

I really want to be the kind of person who can dance and sing and not worry about what others think, including myself.  I wish I knew why I scrutinize myself so intensely to the extent that I can’t sing and dance just with myself.  That seems stupid to me, but the part of me that is afraid to do those things doesn’t think it’s stupid.  It thinks I just don’t understand, and I don’t.  Maybe that’s some other suppressed aspect of my childhood trying to free itself from time’s chains.

I also think it’s because I’m afraid of the attention that I know I will get if I express myself that way.  I know I can be amazing, and it fills me with fear to imagine having people watch me or hear me in that way, no matter how much they’re enjoying it.  That part of me wants to be free, but I don’t know how to let it go.

Singing and dancing aren’t the only things that I can’t or don’t do because of my own severe self-consciousness.  I know how to play some instruments very well (or at least I used to), but I was never able to fully develop my playing skill because I was afraid of other people hearing me, and after time that seeped into my own mind, making it difficult to even hear myself.  Maybe that fear of dancing, playing, and singing is just a manifestation of the same scrutiny I put my art through.  So much so that even now I look at pieces of my art that make others gasp, and all I see are mistakes.  I can’t see the beauty through my own perfectionism.

Also, when I think about what it might feel like to dance and sing, I want to cry.  Like there’s something inside that will be unleashed by doing those things, and I’m afraid of what it might be or for others to see it.  Maybe that’s that last ball of sadness that still lives deep inside me.  I used to think of my sadness as a bottomless well from which bad feelings were constantly upwelling.  I feared they would never stop and I would have to wallow in my past for my entire life.  Well, in recent times, I’ve begun to see the bottom of the well, or at least know that it’s there.  Writing down my life story had a great deal to do with that.  Seeing it all laid out and dragged from the proverbial closet put a lot of things in perspective.  So did drawing out the path of my life as it related to spirituality, my first task from Spiritual Nomad.

But there’s still this knot of sadness whose nature I can’t quite put my finger on.  I suspect it’s not based in anything but habit.  It’s the manifestation of the soldiers I stationed around my soul in order to protect it from bad people and bad things.  They’re very good at their job and have done it for so long that they can’t see anything but their original orders, like that Japanese soldier they found hiding on a Pacific island who would not deviate from his orders until the Prime Minister of Japan ordered him to stand down.  They also praised him for his tenacity and patriotism.  I’m trying to do the same thing with the guards in my mind.  Their job is done now.  Danger has passed.  But they don’t know what to do with themselves now, and so that ball of sadness sits there, very well guarded by now misguided mental soldiers.  Until it’s gone, I will feel choked.

I wish I knew how to tell them to stand down.  I wish I knew what to tell them to make them feel that their job is over but that they are appreciated.  That their protection has become a hindrance in the absence of ‘war’.

That they are keeping part of me caged.

Reflection


I spent some time today reading over the previous year’s worth of blog entries over at Tempest. I’m struck by how much better I feel compared to the way I was feeling when I wrote a lot of those entries. There was still a lot of up and down, and I wasn’t really on the right meds, so things weren’t improving as quickly as they might have.

It was interesting to see the range of emotions I went through over the last 16 months or so. At first I was desperate to stop whatever was wrong with my addled brain. Then I was relieved to finally have some kind of treatment. My next task was to bury myself in as much information about bipolar disease as possible. After a few weeks of that, I’d had enough and returned all of the books to the library. Quickly. By then I was resentful about having to deal with it at all, which wasn’t helped by not getting better as quickly as I had hoped. Then again, I was reminded of the many people on a bipolar forum I visit sometimes who had spent literally years finding the right med combo and then restabilizing. I’m not surprised it took so long for my own boat to level out and not be going up and down such large waves. You get a broken boat and probably sunk that way.

Then summer came. Gah. God I hope that never happens again. It’s one thing to deal with a drought, and it’s one thing to deal with a heat wave. To deal with them both at the same time is just pure and sheer misery. Just leaving the house is like a slap in the face with a hot blow dryer. Then everything started catching on fire, giving my lungs no end of grief. Having been through that, I was struck by a post almost exactly a year ago talking about how I was surveying my lovely, green garden, something that I’m doing again right now. It was an eerie moment of deja vu.

Later in the year, I finally got off the lithium along with a couple of other things, so I didn’t feel so “chemical”. My new meds are much better: Lamictal, aka lamotrigine, along with Neurontin, aka gabapentin. For some strange reason, anticonvulsant medications do wonders for bipolar illness. Go figure. I hope that I get to do what I want in the afterlife, which is just wander the Universe, coming back to Earth every now and then to see how humanity is progressing. It would be wonderful to see a time in the future when science has learned most of what there is to know about the human body, enabling them to be much more precise in how mental illness gets treated. Just as we see the treatment of mental illness a hundred years ago as barbaric, I imagine a similar attitude will be thought about this century’s method of treating mental illness. All we can do now is throw one drug after another at something, try to give a patient as much therapy as possible, and try to get someone to adhere to lifestyle changes that will also benefit their mental, and physical, health.

That last bit is the hardest, really. I have 40 years of habits under my belt that need undoing, and it’s going to be really difficult. A lot of these habits are comforting mechanisms I developed over time to deal with my stressful environments or general life misery. And I still find them comforting. I have much less need to escape from something dangerous or stressful, but it’s like wearing your favorite ratty, but comfortable, clothing around the house. Maybe you don’t need it for its purpose anymore, but damn they’re cozy. Woe betide the person who throws them away or takes them to Goodwill.

Well, like every other habit I’ve ever needed to change, I need to put a solid plan into place. It took me two months to lay out my quit smoking plan. It should take me at least that long to plan out the various life changes I still need to make in order to say I’m doing everything I can to mitigate my condition. Drugs only do so much. The rest has to come from things that I do myself. So far I haven’t been very good at that job. But last year was really hard for me and I spent most of my time and energy keeping my head above emotional water. Now the waves aren’t so high and the water isn’t as turbulent, so I don’t have to work so hard. In fact, it’s kind of pleasant here. Pleasant enough to feel like I can really get back to the task of living life as it’s meant to be lived. With ease.

Not Little Anymore


I’ve been increasingly sad lately that Zoe’s getting so big. She’s shedding another ‘skin’, so to speak, by outgrowing another layer of toys and interests. Every time I see her/us getting rid of something else that she’s had since she was very small or a little-little girl, I get really depressed. Other small things will set me off: seeing someone carrying a toddler, or unsubscribing from an e-list that’s no longer relevant. It’s been quite some time since I could carry her (though if I had to, I still could, but not for very long), and when I didn’t have to anymore, I was grateful because she was getting so heavy. But I find myself wishing she was small again. She’s too heavy to sit in my lap comfortably anymore. We can cuddle next to one another still, but it’s not the same.

I think it bothers me more than it might other parents because I was so depressed for the first three years of her life. I wasn’t really completely there because of the postpartum depression that just seemed to go on and on and on. Sometimes I’m surprised I made it through those first few years at all and still think I wasn’t a very good mother. I feel like I missed so much. There must have been good and happy times, but mostly what I remember is being unhappy and stressed out.

And now she’s nearly 9, halfway to being an adult, and I often desperately wish I could roll everything back several years and do it again without being so sad and angry and sleep-deprived. Almost nothing happened the way I thought it would or wanted it to.

I get sad like this every year around her birthday. The actual act of having her was so traumatizing, and my doctor so cruel and insensitive, that it still sticks with me even after all this time. All I can do is wonder how much better things would have been if we had all gotten a better start. I feel like something very dear was stolen from me, from all three of us. I guess I’ll get over it someday, but it doesn’t look like “someday” is this year.

Yeah. Not little anymore.

Anger-Fear-Compassion


The spectre of anger has hung over my family for at least five generations.  Reading our genealogical history is like walking through a museum of dysfunction.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, etc.  So much abuse that the word ‘abuse’ becomes non-sensical when I say or think it.  I think often about the nature of anger and how and why it manifests.

Whilst perusing Facebook today, I ran across a link to this short video by Mingyur Rinpoche entitled “What Meditation Really Is”, which you can watch here.

In five minutes, he was able to slice through all of the conflicting notions I have had regarding meditation, notions that have kept me from establishing a meditation practice.  YouTube is always helpful in guiding its viewers to similar videos, so I clicked on the one entitled “Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness”, yet another Buddhist concept that I struggle mightily with.  Again, in five minutes, he was able to clarify how anger relates to the rest of our emotions in an amazingly clear way.  Trying to fight with anger using compassion is futile, because the compassion comes through the anger.  Dig beneath the surface of anger deeply enough, and you will find compassion.  Anger is often the result of stymied compassion.  Seeing how anger and compassion are interrelated helped me see the true nature of my own anger and where it comes from.

In the midst of that clarity, I remembered something that my grandmother said to me during one of my all-too-few visits to her before she died.  I was asking her about her family and about some of the things my mother had told me regarding their own abusive relationship.  And she said, “I don’t think I was  so much angry as I was afraid.”  Like a bell ringing in a temple to awaken and clear the mind, all of the aspects of dysfunction in my family and the generations before us became so much clearer.  Today, as I still struggle with anger, I strive to remember what Gram said.  Anger I have trouble with, but fear I can handle.  Fear is greatly quelled by logic and rationality, two things I pride myself of having a good grasp upon.  Whenever I am angry, I try to ask myself if I’m angry, or if I’m afraid.  Nine times out of ten, I’m afraid of something, usually the future and the unknown.  Once I identify my fear, I can find reasons for it to back off.

I feel I am much closer to achieving my goal of establishing a good meditation practice now that these things have been clarified for me.  I feel like I have been looking through a dirty window that has just been cleaned, and now the light can get in and I can see things for what they really are.  Now I won’t have to waste my meditation time worrying that I’m not doing it right, an attitude that has killed nearly every attempt at meditation I have made.  Now I don’t need to fear or fight with my anger.  What I seek is inside my anger and fear, and if I make friends with them and direct their energies more positively, I will find my compassion and my loving-kindness.  My metta.  In that way I feel I will be much more successful in my goal of sharing my bodhicitta, my awakened mind, with others.  I have always felt that I have something very important to do while I walk this Earth.  Perhaps I am a little bit closer to figuring out what that might be.

Liebster Award


I am a shocked blogger today, or rather, I have been for the last few days.  I checked my email over the Thanksgiving holiday only to discover that a good friend had nominated me for a Liebster Award.  Explanation as follows.

“Liebster” is a German word meaning dearest and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.

Here’s how it works:

1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.

2. Reveal your Top 5 blogs (with under 200 followers) and let them know by leaving comments on their blogs.

3. Post the Award on your blog.

4. Enjoy the love of some of the most supportive people on the Internet.

Um, uh, well, gosh!  Color me…something.  I’m not used to being acknowledged in such a manner, but I’m very happy and flattered, to be sure!  I will certainly be following item #1, and I will do my best to follow #2 (I have several blogs listed down my sidebar, but I have absolutely no idea how many followers they have).  #3, no problem.  #4, I will do my best.  Taking praise is one of the most difficult things for me to do.  I like to think it’s some kind of Buddhist humility, but really I’m pretty sure it’s a pathological incapacity to acknowledge anything good that I do.  Read up on “self esteem in dysfunctional families” if you really must know.

So, for item #1!  I give you the lovely and hilarious Bon Steele and her blog Bits of Writing.  Really, put this one on your blogroll, she is a particular flavor of funny that I have not yet run across and am happy that I did.  Thank you so much for nominating me for the Liebster!  I am truly honored.  🙂

Item #2, I direct you to my sidebar, which as I said before contains many blogs of unknown followers.  However many they may have, they are among my favorites.  Click on each of them whilst languishing with coffee, you won’t be sorry.  I will do my best to find out which ones are deserving of this particular accolade.

Item #3, the Liebster Award!

Description above.

#4, I will do my best.  Really.  It’s good practice for me.  Seeing myself for what I am is the most difficult thing I do each day and I live in constant admiration of people who think highly of themselves.  How do you do it?  I don’t know how to praise myself on one hand without cutting myself down with the other.  As though one holds a bouquet of flowers while the other holds a scythe.  I would really like to put the scythe down and just hold the flowers.  Things like this help.  Thank you, Bon.  🙂

Experiment


I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks.  I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects.  Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment.  It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly.  Riding a stationary bike?  Straight out.  Karate?  Not much better.

Then there were the memory issues.  I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing.  I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it.  Fun times.  Never mind tv shows, what about my life?  My daughter?  Memories are what make a human life.  Without them, what’s the point of living?  It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore.  Something was terribly amiss.  A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.

So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc.  So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks.  I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero.  600mg seemed to be okay.  I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful.  I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible.  I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.

This really upset me.  I had really wanted to be off that particular drug.  It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take.  I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought.  But I was.  I really was, or am.  And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.

But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do.  She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help.  And that clearly wasn’t true.

I have bipolar illness.  I am not bipolar.  That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder.  It’s tough to make that distinction.  I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it.  And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic.  Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here.  It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it.  I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But what absolutely does NOT work is denial.  I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while.  I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day.  I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life.  Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.

Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog.  After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud.  They hide it as much as possible.  That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me.  And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding.  Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth.  People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Why not these?  Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass?  Not likely.  So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.

40


So I hit the big four-oh recently.  40.  I know it’s just an arbitrary chronological marker, like 20 or 30, but you remember how seriously you took those particularly markers, don’t you?  Crossing 20 was like the loss of your youth.  Only one year away from legally drinking, your days of clandestine partying were just about over.  Crossing 30 was like the loss of the rest of your youth.  You could no longer be irresponsible and head out for the weekend on rock climbing or motorcycling adventures.  Or so your psyche told you, anyway.

40 is much the same way.  It’s telling me about all of the things that I’ve lost, about all of the things that I’m not “allowed” to do anymore, and all of the things that I “should” do now.  And I’m having an incredibly difficult time with all of those “shoulds” and “alloweds” and everything that goes along with it.  So what does being 40 years old really mean?

On the surface, it means just that: I have achieved 40 revolutions around the Sun, and no more.  In my case, that’s a fine accomplishment.  I should have been killed either by someone else’s hand or my own by now.  The chances of being killed by someone else dropped considerably long ago when I didn’t live with either of my parents anymore.  The chances of being killed by myself?  Not as low, I admit.  It’s times like those I’m glad I have such a loving husband, magickal daughter, spectacular friends, and a print of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” hanging over my desk.  If Vincent could look through the bars of his sanitarium window and create that, then I have no room for complaint.  So 40 revolutions around the Sun aren’t such a meager accomplishment for me, or for any of us, I’m guessing.

It also means coming face to face with some old baggage.  I’ve had this weird notion since my 20s that there was a “wall” of sorts at 40.  I could ‘see’ past my 20s and into my 30s and guess pretty well what I’d be doing, but I couldn’t see past 40.  I still can’t.  That’s terrifying and heartening at the same time.  What am I going to be doing?  Will I finally publish that book of mine?  Will I simply keep trudging through the domestic life of Mom?  A life that, I hate to admit, is not very satisfying.  Culture tells me I’m supposed to feel guilty about that, but I don’t.  A much smaller cultural template tells me that it’s just goddman fine to want to have a life of my own while I simultaneously walk the path of Mom.  Maybe it’s right, though at the moment I lack other voices to hear and hands to hold to help me along that path.  And I have a horrible fear of “doing the wrong thing”.  Don’t we all?

If I kept along the path of Mom and nothing else, what comes after that?  Nothing happy, I fear.  If I keep along the path of “Hey, I can do both!”, what comes after that?  Happiness?  Unhappiness?  Fulfillment?  A happy daughter?  An angry one?  That’s really the crux of all this.  I am raising a daughter, who is nearly 9.  She wants to listen to pop music, and she wants her clothes to be just right, and boys make her feel “all melty”.  I’m not sure if I’m ready for all that yet.  I know the time of separation is coming sometime soon.  The day when she will not run across the schoolyard with a belly-crunching hug and an “I love you” for me, because that will just not be cool.  Or maybe it will and that’s just my fear speaking.

Speaking?  My fear screams these days.  It shouts from the rafters and tries to convince me that it will all be the same as when I grew up, and I shout back at it that it’s wrong and has no idea what it’s talking about because it’s never seen the things that I hope for.  Hope’s in there too.  Lovely Hope.  Her voice is quieter, and I wish it were louder so that she could drown out all of the other voices that plague my mind.

That is what 40 means for me.  Many veils to pass through, many doors to walk through, none of which I am familiar with because I have previously walked through a very different set of veils and doors that led to horrible places with angry faces and treacherous lessons.  Now is when the last fetters of childhood are ripped asunder, and it’s going to smart.  People keep telling me that the 40s are better than the 30s.  I look at them with more than a bit of disbelief, but maybe they’re right, because I certainly don’t need any of the things that I hope to strip away or ignore.  It’s just not going to be any fun at all, not for a while anyway.