Everybody experiences ups and downs in their general mood. We are not people on a consistent plateau of happiness; more often it's perhaps like looking out on the Lake District. Overall it seems to be appealing and manageable with some darker valleys and sweeping hills. The wider picture is one of reasonable consistency and can be traversed with relative ease.
Having a mood disorder shifts this paradigm and has to include the foothills of the Alps and sometime the Himalayas. The bell curve of emotional experience is deeper and wider and more inconsistent. And when ill, my emotional antenna is incredibly sensitive and overloaded. Medication, strategies and self care help me to gently ease my mood flux into a more narrow channel, and trying to recognise when the moods are expanding and leaking out into unmanageability is a skill in itself. And again, as it is mostly internal and cerebral, communicating the shifts is complicated. You don't want to worry anybody by alerting them to your shifting frame of mind, but in the same breath you need to let on that things might not be OK. Over the years I have had to understand what is a dip and what is a slippery slope to madness. One way of explaining it is using the analogy of a radio. When well and feeling like ordinary folk, radio 2 is on quietly in the background. Sometimes certain songs or articles of news grab your attention more than others, but generally, it's benign. It isn't distracting and doesn't interfere with your daily functioning. When ill, someone turns the volume up to maximum. Your moods crash in on you like repeated swells, they are almost suffocating and get in the way of doing anything sensible. You also react to people more violently than you normally would as you are experiencing reality in a magnified way.
When Manic, all my boundaries and mood containers disappear. It's like a flood, rampaging over the flats with no regard for person or property. Lots of unbridled thoughts and emotions. It's funny as the urban myth about mania is that you feel ecstatic, euphoric, creative and wonderful. In my limited experience, this isn't actually the full picture. I do get some of that, but that is usually when ascending to the peak of Everest. Coming down the other side is usually all agitation, anger, grandiosity, paranoia, fear, confusion, aggression, despair and then finally a feeling of mental collapse when your brain actually stops running and leaves you feeling like someone put a bullet through your brain. Scrambled eggs head. Also throughout these periods, those thought and feelings I have are not coherent. They are scattered and almost out of order. My brain shatters into a million pieces.
So I have to take mood inventory most days. Living with bipolar is all about balance and measuring yourself on your own scale of manageability. I have had to learn what is within the normal scale of thoughts and feelings and what for me is stepping outside of that. If I am stepping outside of that, how long should I leave it? Will it contract back to the norm, and if it doesn't at what point should I speak to someone, seek help, panic? Also, there are normal mood dips in relation to external circumstances. If something kicks off with the kids at school, feeling angry and upset is a normal reaction. It will probably hang around for a few days. That's what normal people do. I do tend to feel it in a more magnified way as I am super sensitive, but it does pass. I think there was a part of me that hoped one day I wouldn't feel anything uncomfortable and that equalled wellness. That is far from true. I will never be a spiritual guru in a state of near Nirvana. Thankfully I have gained insight during my journey and it helps me to survive the roller coaster. This is also an ongoing work of self, as every new situation presents an opportunity for learning and growth. Things move and change constantly.
So if I seem a little confused, or tell you you that I find this current situation really hard, remember that I am am working hard to keep up with you. I am probably flicking through my book of tips to figure out what I could be doing to make things a little less troubling or tricky. I will catch up eventually if you have the time to wait.
Thursday, 6 October 2016
Monday, 3 October 2016
Humility: Being open to every lesson life brings, trusting that our mistakes are often our best teachers. Being thankful for our gifts instead of boastful.
Discernment: Applying the wisdom of our intuition to discover what is essential and true, with contemplative vigilance. Clarity of the soul.
Integrity: The state of being whole and undivided.
These three "virtues" have become a talisman against which I measure my behaviour and well being. If I am immersed in these behaviours, even when things become incredibly tough, my inner core is more stable and I feel a degree of freedom from the chains that wish to keep me in bondage. This doesn't mean that I am pious, lacking in humour or never make mistakes; it helps to centre me in a world where I can easily be cast adrift and tempted by the bright lights and illusions of false promises. It stops me getting caught up in people pleasing, fixing myself to fit in with you and wearing masks to adjust to each and every situation in order to feel acceptable.
Apparently some people have self esteem and a strong sense of self and never really have to work on feeling OK in the world. Bizarre I know. I was not one on those fortunate people. For me, not being grounded meant quite a lot of personality floating and uncertainty of how to act and who to be. Did you ever own an activity book where you pop out the woman in her underwear, then turn the pages to pop out further daily outfits to hang off her torso or legs? You'd fold over the little flaps to secure her new roll neck sweater and cords! This is how I used to live my life. Standing semi naked in my undressed cardboard glory was not how I felt comfortable. Throw in a dose of depression and/or mania to make it even more complex and I felt even more dissimilar and unusual than the next person. I needed a huge wardrobe of behaviours and characteristics to camouflage the real me in order to move throughout the community unseen. It's a real contradiction. Being yourself you feel invisible so you try and hide that reality to be seen as a "Normal" person, which actually makes you invisible! Yes, it's a bit abstract and totally irrational. I'm mentally ill remember.
So every day I would open my trunk of living outfits and pop on what was appropriate. Going to work blouse of academic qualifications, skirt of bravado, shoes of the opinions of others and jacket containing pockets of music you might like, I'm OK really and I'll tolerate you for fear of having no friends. Every scenario would be different so going to the pub would be a jumpsuit of fake joy, to my parents a party dress of lies and with men the mask of I'll just be what you say I should be as I really don't have a clue about being in a grown up relationship.
This is a long time ago, but formulating and constructing a coping mechanism and framework for keeping you safe takes a lifetime to undo. I had very little insight and no bench mark of what it meant to be whole, and free, and self accepting and myself. I wasn't well or emotionally bold. At 19 I was not able to say, I love and accept myself the way that I am, and I have a mental illness but it's OK as I can learn to live with it. I know when we are young we are finding out feet but in hindsight I realise I was lagging behind the pack dragging along a brain that wasn't functioning properly either.
So fast forward 25 years. What have I been doing? I've been clearing out my wardrobe. You start off with the big stuff, the really visible behaviours that are toxic for you and others. Out go the winter coats, the bobble hats and scarves. Then you work down a little deeper and find things that are maybe not as obvious but can really trip you up. The G string of shame! Small and insidious but cuts you in half if you wear it too long.So eventually I have to learn to walk around in my emotional birthday suit. I have to embrace my illness and the quirks that it furnishes me with, and trust that if you see me as I am the world won't come to an end. I can be the real me in all situations. Every now and then I might run to the wardrobe and grab a few items usually in moments of fear or anxiety. With me it's most likely to be the handbag of avoidance and purse of sarcasm.
But in order to be well I must be free of the old framework and find a new world view. I need to give myself the permission to be free and to be loved for what and who I am. It banishes the darkness and deceit and "Head traffic of lies". I read a book by Max lucado called, "You are special". You can hear it on you tube if you type it in the search bar. It is a Christian book, but it's message is for those of faith or none. It reminds me of the beauty of being unique, and that I am enough, I am accepted and I am loved.
So I focus on my touchstone virtues, put one foot in front of the other and press on into the new world. Slightly naked, but less afraid.