Category Archives: bipolar

Pods are the new blogs

I am late to the game of podcasts, and so have missed that they are the way more and more people are sharing stories. Whoops. Internet 3.0 apparently is on our phones and not on the internet at all.

Regardless, however, I wanted to share that I have become a devotee of “The Hilarious World of Depression,” which is a series of discussions with comics, writers, and other professionally funny people who also suffer from depression, bipolar, and depression/substance abuse/other comorbid conditions.

Just like blogs are important places to hear it, it’s also great to be driving along in the car and listen to two funny people talk about how their brains are trying to kill them, and that they have still managed to keep going. It makes the road rage easier to manage.

So– maybe check it out, add it to your rotation of mindfulness and self-care.

It gets better(ish)

I was messaging back and forth with someone on my tumblr blog about something I’d reblogged about being middle-aged (ish, I know 40 is the new 30 *rolls eyes*) and mentally ill.

I tagged myself as being 42 and having bipolar 2, which prompted that person’s message, and thus far we’ve had a few back and forth messages about bipolar 2.   Among other things, I mentioned that I think (and still do) that I am a better writer when I am really depressed.

Something they said in response struck me (to paraphrase):  “I don’t know who I am without meds.”

I used to feel that way, and when I went to check out their tumblr profile I was reminded that they were in their late 20s.

It made sense, even though I don’t know how long this person has been struggling with their diagnosis.  Here I am, 42, and I’ve been doing the bipolar diagnosis thing for 10 years.  I’ve had this blog under one name or another for 10 years, however lately neglected it’s been.

And gosh, do I remember how fucking agonizing life was for a really long time.  First, because I was miserable and couldn’t fix it.  Then, miserable because I knew what was wrong with me but the meds weren’t a cure.  Then, more miserable because the meds would work for a while and then just stop working.

Never mind all the stuff about the impact bipolar has had on who I have managed (or abandoned) relationships with– family, friends, and work– and how hard those relationships were to navigate around trying to keep a stuff upper lip and keep going.  Never mind all the stuff about work and achieving what other folks expected of me and castigating myself for not being enough of a success.

A very big part of the angst and the agony was about questioning my identity– was I just malfunctioning neurotransmitters and faulty hormone levels?  Who was I if it required medication to change my perceptions to something “normal?”  Wasn’t there, surely, a “normal” that existed outside my ups(ish) and very deep downs? Wasn’t it really a character flaw inside my personality (whatever that was) that meant I wasn’t morally strong enough to just push my way through the depression?

I said to this tumblr friend that I had been through that and at some point it had stopped bothering me.  I guessed that in all the thrashing towards leaving my marriage, I’d unconsciously resolved the question in favor of “I am worth it,” and stopped questioning whether “meds me” or “non-meds me” was the real person who deserved to have attention paid to them.

I think this is probably true– although heavens know, I could go back to when I was blogging here then and re-read my posts to see if that’s what I was thinking then.  I’m not going to, though– because it matters less than what I know to be true now.

Here’s what I know to be true now.

It mostly gets better.  Better(ish), if you like.

Infuriating, right?  Everyone who’s not inside your head tells you this and it is so damned hard to believe in the midst of the darkness.  Someone told me this back then and I emphatically refused to believe it.

It’s true anyway.

I don’t want to navel gaze about self-help or sports-jargon words like “resilience” or “adversity” or “living with your struggle.”  I think that “keep calm and carry on,” is as close as I can come to paraphrasing what I’ve come to accept makes sense for me.  Or maybe Winston Churchill’s “if you’re going through hell, just keep going.”

I kept going and decided to do that even when things were objectively terrible– and not just because my perspective was tinged by depression and panic and very little hope that things would improve or that I deserved to keep going.

A lot of times I tried to trust in the therapeutic value of work– not in some big, high-minded way, but in an “at least I accomplished something today” kind of way.  I have journaled erratically over the last several years, and when I have it’s been focused on what I have been doing that means I accomplished something.

Sometimes it’s been– I fed someone something delicious.

Sometimes it’s been– I got someone back their health insurance, or hired someone who’s succeeded, or I gave someone the space they needed to attend to their health and still keep their job.

Sometimes it’s been– I made someone I care about laugh.

Sometimes it’s been– I cut back that overgrown, unblooming rosebush that scratched up everyone who came near it.

I hacked back that rose hedge the week after I left my marriage and moved.  I was scratched all to hell by the end, and I sweated the whole way through it, sore and tired from all the work.

It’s been 6 years since then, and that hedge is more or less orderly, blooms all summer long, and it’s beautiful in its own droopy, old-fashioned, slightly scraggly, occasionally thorny way.  Those things are all true, standing right up on top of the hedge.  But three feet away, it’s a well-put together rose hedge that delights everyone who sees it.  (We get notes through the mail slot about how nice a rose hedge it is.)

It’s work, though.  That first pruning was not a magical fix and it was ugly and bare for a while.  I have to tend to that hedge every year and cut out the dead parts, feed the roots, and take a step back to figure out how to fit other parts of the garden around it.

That rose hedge is a little too heavy handed a metaphor, but it’s true.  I had to hack my life back down to the ground for it to grow back– but it worked.  It got better.

Gardening metaphors aside, though, it doesn’t mean I don’t still get depressed, or anxious, or agitated and doubtful and occasionally helpless.  It does mean that having decided to keep going, there are more and more successes over time that are objective proof that I am mostly making the right decisions, and that whoever I am, with or without meds, I’m doing okay.  And then, I feel better more quickly than I had in past years.

It gets mostly better.  And when it doesn’t, it’s okay.  It will get better(ish) again.  Just please keep going.

I don’t regret a bite

I was talking with a work colleague last week at lunch and at some point it came up that I’d been a lot heavier (225 lbs) than I am now (currently 180 lbs and 5’7”, so, more or less a US size 12).  They expressed the usual amazement that I had lost all that weight, etc., and stated the usual platitudes about how I must feel better to be “healthier” now.

I didn’t get in to all the gory details of it with them except to say that what mattered more to me than the weight loss was the other changes I made that have made it possible to stay in a weight range that lets me do all the things I want to do— snow shoe, garden, give my niece piggy-back rides, hike, yoga, and otherwise shoulder the weight of taking care of a house and an aging parent who would prefer to avoid carrying laundry up and down cellar stairs.  I don’t care so much about fashion beyond a basic level of vanity in fitting in to a range of size 10-12 clothes where I don’t feel ashamed of my body; I am lumpy and I have the start of a wattle.  That is ok.

What I also didn’t get into was that for me, weight has always been NOT about food (which I love), it has been and always been about love, whether my life is feeling manageable, and whether I am practicing decent self-care.  It’s taken me 40 years, more or less, to figure it out.  I will never look like a supermodel. So what? I didn’t get into the details, because they were male, it was lunch, and I didn’t want to get heavy (hah).  But I’ve been thinking about it (again).

I love food.  I love eating.  I love the act of cooking and feeding myself and others. I love creating something from scratch.  I love growing food and coaxing things out of warm dirt and onto the plate.  I love the meditation of chopping.  I love the alchemy of how butter, eggs, and onion become an amazing perfume. And even though I have been both far heavier than I would choose, as well as skinnier than I would like between bulimia and other illnesses and medication reactions, I don’t ever regret any weight fluctuation that happened as a result of any food that I ate.  I don’t regret a bite of it, ever.

Weight, however, is not about food.  Weight is about weight— it’s about the world crushing you down, and no one around you doing anything to lift it off you.  Weight is about you being Atlas, and you not being told, either at all or effectively, so you can hear it from people who are supposed to care about you, that you don’t have to carry it all.  In my case, between being bipolar and being an Adult Child of two bipolar parents who tried but had their own stuff and just often were not successful, it took me a long time to figure out that I was eating to feel full in the middle and push out against the weight and anxiousness and chill pressing in from outside, and all the people who weren’t doing anything to lift the world off of me.  It took me a long time to push back and say I was not going to carry it all, and that I was also not going to finish everything on my plate just to make others happy.

It took me a long time to realize that in maintaining my weight, in finding my metaphorical and literal center and in feeding myself, that meant I should only eat what I wanted, and that this was both an enormous privilege (in having money and choice, both of which I have gone without) and a burden in that I’d have to speak up for myself and do the work.  I would eat— or not eat, if I wasn’t hungry— what I had prepared for myself, but I’d have to make it.  I would not have feel grateful for food I hadn’t asked for, or eat things I expressly disliked, or have to put up with something that someone plopped down on my plate and told me to finish or it would mean I didn’t love them. Because really, if they’d been paying attention, why would they shove that weighty glop on me in the first place?  But first I’d have to say– no thanks.  I’m full.

It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

(Easier than) waiting around to die

(Trigger warnings for discussions of suicidality, family drama, and other A+ parenting issues.  Also, as usual, language.  This is a sort of undecided, sort of open-ended piece because I need to tweak my meds again and am feeling more than a little blue, but I have already called my shrink & let my therapist know I feel lousy, in case you’re wondering.)

I read some author’s line someplace that we sometimes feel like can’t be who we really are until everyone who’s known us is dead.  Sometimes, it’s even true by circumstances of money or other constraints– you don’t have the freedom to tell other people and their expectations to go screw, and sometimes just heading out for the hills and reinventing yourself somewhere, somewhen else is not in the cards. Continue reading