Posted by: bipolarmystic | January 20, 2014

Volunteering

Since moving into a new home two months ago I have begun to realize the goals I set for myself.  I knew I wanted to give back to my community and volunteer.  For about a month now I spend three to four hours a week volunteering for a center that provides food and financial assistance to those in need.  It has been a very humbling experience.  Six months ago I thought that food stamps kept people from going hungry.  I was shocked to find out that many children and families in this country go hungry.  When I look back on my upbringing, I see how blessed I am.  I was raised in what our society considers a middle class home.  To the vast majority of people in the world, I grew up in a very wealthy home.  And even now, with the diminishing middle class, my family is extremely fortunate and basically, very wealthy people in material terms.  

Although I have been really enjoying my volunteer time, it is also difficult to be faced with poverty that I didn’t know existed on such a large scale.  At this time of the year, the center focuses on providing holiday gift and food baskets for those who need some help.  People requesting assistance must fill out a form with a wish list.  The wish lists are so humbling and heartbreaking.  In my world socks for Christmas are a joke.  A plain hoodie?  You gotta be kidding me right?  It’s not a joke to the families who are asking for holiday assistance.  The things they ask for these things – long johns, pajamas, undergarments, socks, any kind of pants the right size…  I can’t imagine wearing a pair of pants my mom bought for me…  Not many people would buy the kind of pants I would want to wear.

And that’s part of how blessed I am, I have plenty of clothes.  Buying a pair of socks is so insignificant for me.  I try not to buy many new clothes, but that is a choice, not a constraint.  The requests that really broke my heart were for the young children.  One woman hoped to receive a baby play mat for her two month old.  She also asked for diapers.  Diapers!!!!  Something is seriously wrong in the world if a woman requests diapers for Christmas.  It was a very difficult week for me.  I feel like I want to help everyone.  Another woman came in to fill out a form and she was telling me all the things that went wrong for her this year.  She asked me to pray for her!  Bless her heart.  When I looked at the form, she had requested food for her husband and herself.  She also put down “one small dog” in the children section.  

For a moment I scoffed at this, I went to the place of judgement we all like to go to.  I thought, this woman can’t feed herself and she’s asking for help with the dog.  How small of me was this?  By the end of my shift at the volunteer center, I wanted to buy dog food to make sure this lady got dog food with her Christmas basket.  We have another man who needs help with food and says after his medical bills, other bills and the dog he can’t feed himself.  Why would we judge this?  Is feeding one dog going to make the difference between this man having enough food?  No way.  That is a way to make ourselves feel comfortable, to blame people’s circumstances on something they did or did not do.  When in fact, poverty has nothing to do with the damn dog, and often little to do with anything a person can control.

We are all a few disasters away from being on the streets or not having enough food.  That is the discomfiting part of poverty.  That is why as humans, we try to blame poverty on some character defect.   

Posted by: bipolarmystic | January 20, 2014

The Buy Nothing Project

Recently I came across the “buy nothing project on Facebook.”  This group takes the idea of barter culture a step further and promotes gifting culture.  This means just what it sounds like, you give stuff away with only the expectation that you will receive further down the road.  When you have a need, or a want, and someone has just what you need sitting around gathering dust – then your time will come.  I am so attracted to this idea.  With the new year upon us, it’s time for me to make some changes.  To be honest – I’m a bit terrified.  My classes will be over soon and I will be a graduate with a Master’s degree.  School has been a huge part of my life for a few years now.  I certainly feel like I’m at the crossroads of something new and I am excited!  But also struggling a bit with all the goals I have set for myself.

Major among my goals is to not allow school to take over my life.  This may be a balance some people are able to achieve better than me.  Excellence in academic studies has been ingrained in me.  I easily obsess and take more time than necessary for assignments.  In return, my focus narrows to tunnel vision.  I become stressed and hate what I’m doing because I have no time to do anything else.  In previous semesters I have consciously made the choice not to have a social life in return for focusing on my classes.  I know this is a trade-off many graduate students make, and to some extent, most people make in the United States.  Work for more shit that we don’t have time to enjoy.  You know the drill.  So I’ve been setting time limits on portions of my assignments and trying to stay focused on getting one chunk done at a done to add up to the least amount of time possible.  I think focusing my thoughts before hand will help me immensely.

The start of a new year also means it’s time to start thinking about tax time.  This is always a big undertaking in my family since my husband owns a small business.  It also means a lot of money out of our pocket.  As I examined our spending habits over the previous year, I was horrified at how much useless spending I did.  Seriously, you could hang me by my toenails and I wouldn’t tell you how much of our income went right out the window.  How does this happen when I hate to shop?  Two words: online shopping.  So convenient and what a time-saver!  But beyond the obvious monetary expenses, how much do my shopping choices effect the environment, my peace of mind?  When we moved into a new home in mid-September, we donated an embarrassing quantity of items.  You would not believe the amount of crap I managed to cram into 700 sq. ft. with overflow into the garage!

This can’t be good, folks.  We are also so disconnected from what we buy.  Enter the buy nothing project: not only can you save cash, it’s good for the environment, too.  However, what I love most about the initiative is the obviously tight community that springs from this sort of selflessness.  And don’t we all need more of that in our lives?  I know I do.  This past week my attempts to work on so many goals at once sent me into a manic spiral.  When it came evident to me was the same time my mom was going to Florida.  Why does it always seem to work out this way?  Of course, I have friends that can understand some of what is going on.  But my mom knows my whole struggle and there’s been times when she took care of me because I couldn’t’ drive, couldn’t be alone, etc.

Perhaps most surprising to me was the straw the broke the camels back: my need for control over my schoolwork, my perfectionism.  I am the kind of person that loves to do the most, and to do it early and in excellent fashion.  This past week I tried to take plenty of time to do other things in between chunks of homework.  It worked out perfectly fine.  My assignments were all in at least a day early.  But it just didn’t jive with me.  Which is SO ANNOYING.  Seriously!!!  What am I going to do when my classes are over?  Sit in a corner and cry???  So I guess I’m going to have to try a different approach.  What I’m thinking now is that I should continue to work ahead, but do so in a way that gives me more security.  In other words, finish even earlier.  If I do that, then theoretically I can enjoy free time later in the week, right?  I’m not talking about going crazy with this.  I am going to set careful time limits for my assignments and try to stick with them so I can finish faster.  I’m not going to do more than absolutely necessary.

And every day, I still plan to spend a minimum amount of time on myself.  So strange that my goal this year is to slack off of school, but it’s true!  Some other goals that clearly conflict with school taking over my life include:

-Remember that accomplishments, friends, anything exterior does not define my worth
-Stop feeling guilty for “not doing enough”
-Exercise and eat healthy (usually I do pretty good on this one)
-Listen to my body
-Save more, spend less
-Think about starting a buy nothing project??
-Be creative
-Accept my body
-Don’t feel like you have to get ahead Guess I’m hanging on to that one for now :x
-Don’t let school take over my life
-Be a better friend / mom / daughter, etc.

What about you – do you set goals for the new year?  Resolutions?

Posted by: bipolarmystic | September 7, 2013

(Im)patience

I’m not sure I really know much about patience.  Well, that’s probably not true.  I have been through things in life that demanded a great deal of patience (waiting for my unfaithful spouse to decide who he wanted to be with).  And at times I was at peace with patience, other times not so much.  In the end cultivating patience saved me from losing it.  Note I said cultivating or growing patience.  I was not “patient” as a verb and I don’t think anybody completely embodies the verb “patience.”  In fact, I think it’s sort of like the definition of courage: doing things even though you ainner peacere afraid.  In my mind patience would be defined more like striving to increase one’s ability to endure, to wait, to gracefully come through difficult times.  Using patience as a verb implies one either has it, or they don’t.  This totally misses the point – because just when you think you’ve developed more patience, courage, self-discipline or whatever, you’ll probably be challenged to develop more.

I think this is the law of the universe, to keep us moving towards our best and healthiest selves.  Right now I feel like I am more familiar with the state of impatience.  So what’s wrong with impatience?  First of all, it makes me pretty cranky because I feel like I’m losing out or being cheated out of some good thing that should have already happened.  Because I’m cranky over what I haven’t gotten get, I miss what’s going on in the moment.  And I forget about all the other good stuff in my life.  I think that this is the state many people find themselves in regularly.  Whether sweating over small stuff like long grocery lines and irritating drivers, or big stuff like waiting on a home to finally close!!!  Living in an impatient state makes it difficult to be kind.  At most we are indifferent to others, at worst we are creating a litany in our minds about the stupid cash register worker who is new and slow.  We may not say anything out loud, but you can bet our internal monologue doesn’t make Joe or Jane’s day any better.

Joe or Jane will experience impatient customers all day long.  Wouldn’t it be sort of radical, or at least a bit unusual, if we could do our best to be kind?  It’s not the poor kid’s fault he or she is new.  And on top of learning how to do everything, the new checkout guy or gal has to deal with openly rude customers or quietly irritated ones.  I don’t think that patience is sexy right now.  Even though the old adage “patience is a virtue” is still knocked around, what kind of relevance does that have in today’s world?  Do people really think patience is a virtue?  In this culture we are encouraged to work hard and succeed as individuals.  There is little sense of success as a community.  It’s all about “me” to the very real expense of “them” and actually, at the expense of ourselves as well.

Some European countries live at a much slower pace of life.  I have read that some travelers find Belgium in particular maddeningly lethargic in comparison to the western lifestyle.  And while Europeans tend to have less personal possessions and less personal income, they take great pride in community and what the community accomplishes together.  Sometimes community just means a huge extended family, and sometimes it means a whole quarter of the city.  People look out for each other, and that by itself is a huge community accomplishment.  When we lack this in our lives, it is easy to be unkind and impatient.  In truth, Western society is a fairly toxic one.  There is nothing wrong with individual achievement, indeed, where would we be without folks like Einstein, Tesla or Edison?  But often these “great minds” were, by many accounts, lonely and difficult people.  It seems clear that the drive they possessed alienated them from their communities.  This is where the idea of personal ambition falls down – when we are alienated from our communities and our true natures.

All you have to do is turn on the t.v. for a few minutes to realize that our society does not value patience or any of the good things that come with patience.  We are bombarded and encouraged by media, friends and even the government to consume, consume, consume.  Adverts encourage us to upgrade our cell phones so we can do more cool stuff faster.  Commercials sell us a false narrative of our lives.  If only we had Aveeno skin cream, or Allstate car insurance, or a closet full of disposable clothes, our lives would be wonderful.  These possessions can become our totem, our god, who will protect us from any harm.  And to get them we have to work like maniacs, ignore our personal needs and certainly the needs of those around us.  So no, patience is not sexy.  Do a Google search on patience and then try one on simple living.  Simple living is super sexy.  And if you can live more simply, patience should follow.  But only if it’s cultivated.

When stuff is our god, consumption is our worship and work/commitments are our biblical tribulations, we constantly need more.  And we need more faster and faster to quiet the sense of emptiness this lifestyle creates.  In my own mind, I have the imaginary narrative of how my life will improve once my family moves into our new house.  I imagine it must be so much better than now.  And I am very impatient to begin my “new better life” sponsored by…you’ve got it…my new home.  In doing so, I give a “thing” great power over me.  I also devalue myself and necessarily deem my current life less worthwhile.  I believe that this is what we are doing constantly when stuck in the consumer lifestyle.  We are in fact judging our current lives and our current selves as lacking and if we get the perfect thing, maybe we’ll have a much better life and be a better person.  This really is not a crazy leap – you see adverts all the time where the perfect outfit is implied to make you more successful, popular, sexy, etc.

Society feeds our impatience – and who benefits in the end.  Do we benefit from this crazy lifestyle?  The only person I see benefiting in this equation is not a person.  It is a myriad of corporations who now hold a great deal of power over us.  In my analogy, they could be our places of worship since they provide a way for us to access our god, stuff.  And like the corrupt papacy of old, the corporations grow obscenely fat on the backs of our hard work and exploit our feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  If that wasn’t enough, the stuff gods require us to sacrifice the well-being of our neighbors.  Jobs that once paid a decent living wage have disappeared to far off lands where workers are exploited to provide cheap goods (gods).  Smog fills the air of Chinese cities that manufacture goods (gods) for the west.

We are accelerating the loss of precious resources.  Our cheap gods are in expensive in every sense of the word: they are false, they will not make us happy, they will destroy lives, they will destroy natural resources.  If we live in thrall to our consumer gods, we are necessarily distancing ourselves from any sort of authentic spiritual life.  By using stuff as gods, as the things that will protect us and get us the life we want, we are turning our backs on spirituality and faith.  Why would we need faith when we have tangible objects that will improve our lives?  Faith is the antithesis to impatience.  Patience and faith are closely related.  When you have faith you don’t need to buy crap to protect yourself.  You can start to free yourself from the false gods, the false narrative that stuff creates.  You can cultivate patience.

Of course, faith is not a verb either.  It’s not a thing that you do or do not have.  It’s a thing you practice.  And this is all hard fucking work!  No wonder folks would rather consume.  The big difference is – stuff can go away at any time.  The stuff god is fickle, it cannot protect you or make life better.  However, if you cultivate faith and patience, you develop skills and maturity.  And if you ever do lose your stuff – or something worse than stuff – faith and patience can save your life.  You can check out some ideas on how to practice patience here:

http://thedaileymethod.blogspot.com/2013/08/7-ideas-on-how-to-practice-patience.html

http://www.daveursillo.com/7-unconventional-ways-to-develop-patience/

Posted by: bipolarmystic | August 31, 2013

What story do your posessions tell?

In my last post I made reference to simplicity books I am reading right now.  I am reading the “100 thing challenge” by Dave Bruno.  This book chronicles Bruno’s journey to pare his personal possessions down to 100 items (he actually ends up with just under 100).  The most interesting part of his journey is the discovery of how unused items are creating a false narrative of the author’s life.  For example, most of us know by now that keeping items a size too small probably makes us feel guilty and pressured to lose weight.  But actually, we are creating an imaginary narrative of our lives where we are thinner.  And to most people, thinner means more successful, happier and sometimes a lot of other things, too.

So in our imaginary life we are thinner and happier, more successful and perhaps feel like a more worthwhile person.  If you are like Bruno (and me, and most people), lots of personal possessions are telling a false narrative about your life.  The problem with this is the stress it creates on our lives when we don’t achieve the skills/weight/time/etc to achieve our imaginary life.  Plus, we have no room in our lives to consider what our narrative truly is – or should be.  Until reading Bruno’s book, I never would have considered all the items I own that tell a false story about my life.

As a person with bipolar disorder, I feel particularly vulnerable to telling a “better” story with possessions.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve always felt “different” and the thing you wanted most was to be like everyone else.  I’ve pushed myself to the brink by trying to “do it all” and do everything just as well or better than most folks.  I feel like I have to prove to myself and everyone around me how “great” I am doing.  So I feel compelled to look perfect in my life and am tempted use my possessions to write a story about a happy, super successful and fulfilled life.

As my family prepares to move into a new home, I have tossed all sorts of items into boxes with little thought.  We did give about 11 boxes! of stuff to the Salvation Army.  But I still have so much more to purge.  Bruno tells several anecdotes about his narrative items.  One is a train set.  Bruno’s father like model trains and always said he’d get around to building a layout, but he never did.  This becomes the allegorical holy grail of happiness for Bruno.  If only he can complete a train layout, perhaps the minor tears in a mostly happy childhood can be repaired.

Bruno also owns a great deal of woodworking equipment at the outset of his project.  And yet, he acknowledges that he will never be the master builder he imagined himself to be, ‘complete with a taller, more muscular frame.’  His tools appear to be an affirmation of masculinity and a testimony to his usefulness.  Other examples include a rock climbing wall and gear (I will never be a rock climber Bruno says) and “professional” clothing that he no longer wears.

Bruno tells an especially sad and funny story about working for his father in a corporate position.  For this job, Bruno owned very nice clothing.  The problem was, none of it fit quite right.  His wool trousers had a tendency to bunch up in the crotch, earning double and triple takes when he sat in staff meetings.  Bruno’s dress shirts had no buttons because they were made with cuff links in mind, which he hates.  In all, these clothes tell an amazing story – but a story Bruno literally does not fit into.

I still keep in my closet a nice, professional suit even though I don’t want a nice, professional job.  I have structured outwear jackets that I don’t wear because I hate restrictive sleeves.  But they tell a story about me – that I am more stylish and cool than I really am, that I really care to be.  I have candy molds in cute designs from making chocolate candies once a few years back.  I have a candy thermometer that I have never used.  I suspect this has to do with ideas of what a cool mom/wife I would be if I made my own candy.  But, I don’t eat candy.  So I’ve made beautiful candies for other people that didn’t get eaten.

How about I create something wonderful for myself?  A narrative that is true to who I am.  And in the end, when I start to unpack what some of these items represent I can hardly believe that items have so much power.  And how silly it is to create an imaginary life with stuff I don’t need, won’t use, will feel resentful towards.  I don’t need to make candies to be cool – and I don’t need to keep stuff that makes me feel like I need to be someone I’m not.  What narrative are your possessions telling?  Is it a true story?

Posted by: bipolarmystic | June 20, 2013

Stress & Emotional Destabilizers

I try to keep this blog really positive and informative, which is probably why I’m not a big poster right now: I’m too busy with school to do a lot of research and I don’t always feel positive!  Right now I’m finishing one six week graduate course with another on it’s way.   As usual, all my stress and worry on that front were for nothing – I have yet to earn less than and “A” in a class, knock on wood!  But what has me really stressing right now is looking for a home to buy.  And this is where being bipolar really starts to get painful for me, because I have to deal with all the stress that accompanies buying a first home, without the “reward” of feeling much excitement.  That’s the rub of some bipolar medications: I no longer have the same emotional range I once did.  And I have recognized that too much excitement can be very destabilizing.  Excitement (or any strong feelings) can quickly become over stimulating and overwhelming.  Excitement can make me start to feel a little hypomanic and when the excitement eventually wears off, I’m left feeling depressed.  So in some ways I am very grateful to the medication because I am less of a basket case (but still somewhat a basket case).  On the other hand, on some days I feel like I don’t even have the “normal” range of emotions as a neurotypical person.

Some days it’s hard not to feel like you are barely human you feel so different from everyone else.  I know a lot of that is in my mind and that everyone experiences stress, and probably can only stand so much excitement, etc.  It’s just hard to see the reactions of people around you and feel like you don’t match up.  As if we needed anything else to make us feel more different.  It is a strange quandary we find ourselves in – who were we before the meds?  Were we “better” or felt “fuller” in some ways?  And yet when the stress started to roll in, often life was much harder before meds (at least for me).  I recognize that the range of emotions I possess off of medications could be described as “turbulent” or an “artistic temperament.”  And often people with that sort of temperament lead somewhat tortured lives.  So is my emotional range actually more towards the normal end with medication?  It is difficult to be objective: I only know my natural state and my medicated state.  And what I see in others, which is always going to be distorted to some extent.

All I know is that at this moment I am frustrated.  Buying a first home is overwhelming for most people, I’m sure.  I’m having thoughts that I never even had before starting this process: that we might lose sources of income that we might become victims of identity theft, etc.  Once I “buy into” a course of action it’s hard for me not to put 100% into accomplishing the goal.  And it’s difficult to say in my mind, at the end of the day its ok no matter how it all turns out.  When buying a home seems to dominate your mind, it’s hard not to worry.  And it’s so frustrating to me because finally after twelve years together my husband and I are finally in a position to buy a home – it almost feels surreal.  So I just want to kick my bipolar, my neuroses, my uptight emotions in the head.  And it becomes exhausting when you realize everything you already do (medication, lots of exercise, healthy diet, minimizing stimulation) is not enough to handle this new stressor.

So I’m thinking about what tools I need to pull out of my kit to handle this situation.  I’ve always found that meditating and visualizing on a positive counteraction to your fears to be very helpful.  For example, I might visualize and repeat the mantra that “the perfect house is coming our way as quickly and easy as possible.”  This helps me feel in control because I HATE not having anything concrete to do when accomplishing a goal.  It feels like spinning my wheels, and then I just start thinking and thinking.  And when I can catch myself doing that and use my mantra again – it definitely helps.  And I think I will start journaling again and writing down my fears.  I have to be aware of them to counteract them!  And I have to remind myself that lots of people would be a nervous wreck buying their first homes.  I am not so different, and I have the tools and knowledge to help alleviate some of the stress.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | April 25, 2013

BP Meds For Unwanted Perceptions? – Fan Post and Reply

FAN: My moods seem to be determined by the energy I am in. I have a hard time telling the difference between good and bad energy. I do have symptoms like wanting to run away and get out or binge eating if it is bad energy. If if is good energy I feel the love I am happy funny and charismatic. Has anyone gone on Meds for bipolar? I am afraid to. I have had my whole life change in the past year, I’ve lost over 100 lbs and people treat me much different but since the weight loss I have severe ups and downs. My intution and perception have grown VERY strong to a point where it is driving me crazy because I see things people do not see. If anyone has any experience on medication please let me know!

REPLY: Congratulations on the weight loss that is huge! Do you have any tips? I am working on losing some weight myself right now :) I got rather ill with respiratory issues over the holidays this year so I was just eating whatever made me feel better thinking I could always take it off later. Not the best idea ever! I am taking it off but it was so not worth it lol. As for good and bad energy – I can find both in high doses to be quite overwhelming. Too much stimulation either way can lead me to shut down (depressed) or hypo-manic. Hypomania seems to come on when I’m feeling very excited and happy about things. It is frustrating to me that I can’t seem to just enjoy my emotion – I have to be so careful and not let it get too high. I have to be careful not to binge eat at night when I’m tired and I hardly know what I’m doing! I would probably be better off getting into bed but I work kind of late in the evenings and feel like I need that time to unwind. Of course, I am tempted to binge eat when I’m very stressed, too.

When I first received my dx I felt like medication did not work for me. I was about 25 at the time and had suffered mental illness since at least eleven or twelve. In the time before the dx I was given other meds that made things worse. I really hit rock bottom right before diagnosis. I had been doing things in my life that were very damaging to myself and my family. I thought since I finally, finally received the correct dx things would automatically get better – even though I had no job, had pushed away all my friends, and my relationship with my husband was a source of tremendous guilt for me (because of things I “did” to him). So I thought meds would fix all that :/ It is a mindset I developed as a kid – that I just needed to keep going, that I would find a “fix.” And I think it’s something that was instilled in me by all the medications and therapists pushed on me. Let’s take the kid here to get fixed, or there!

Flash forward to a few years ago and I was handling things without medication. Mania has never been my biggest problem, depression has. At this point I had a job, ran all the time, was slowly making friends and ate a strict vegan diet. The running literally saved my life as my marriage started to crumble. Then I discovered my husband was having an affair – for three years. I had no choice but to go on medication or I would not been able to function. Under this severe stress is where medication really shined for me. The meds immediately changed my thinking in a good way – the obsessive thoughts didn’t stop but I feel they were at a more “normal” level. Medication allowed me to take the initiative and save my marriage. Without it, I believe my marriage would have failed because my husband certainly wasn’t highly motivated – he was very conflicted.

I am now unsure if I will ever go off medications again. Who knows when a highly stressful event will occur in life? I want to handle it with grace – not fall on my face. I now realize this is a huge danger to bp folks. You feel better, you feel like maybe you don’t need the meds and maybe you don’t right now – but they aren’t really designed for the times you feel good. Of course I’m sure lots of people cope with stress better than me :) To address your specific comments – I think probably medication will help with what you see and perceive but I don’t take anti-psychotics so I have no experience with that class of medication (I’m thinking that’s what they would want to give you). I can tell you that right now I am on lithium (mood stabilizer), lamictal (mood stabilizer), klonopin (anxiety), trazadone (anxiety/depression). These medications work fairly well at controlling my bp symptoms. I used to have spontaneous mystic states and I don’t have them anymore. But I don’t know if that’s just the meds – I am also extremely busy and focused on my master’s degree which I also started three years ago. I have found that having something in my life that demands a great deal of concentration to be very stabilizing. It helps me with my routine, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, it grounds me to a certain extent – but I think it may close me off as well. If you think of the stereotype of the uptight intellectual who thinks they know it all and is not open minded – I think I have a bit of that in me. Although I am open minded! I’m just uptight, lol!

I know I have read in some bp books about medication for sensory defensiveness. I do not take anything to help with my sensory issues. I imagine some of those medications might be helpful as well – since you are sensing things that most people can’t/don’t want to acknowledge. I work in a library – so that eliminates most possibilities for an overload and I always try to have my earplugs handy. Sometimes at home I have to retreat to my bedroom because my thirteen year old has ADD. Do you think what you are seeing is a product of an overwrought mind or “legit” manifestations? At various times in my life I have perceived beings that seemed benign or positive – but I have also experienced what I consider hallucinations and I believe they come from my mind and images I’ve seen in horror movies. To this day I don’t take showers at night because I always used to see a bloody lady (think “carrie”) and felt like she was batting at the shower curtain as I showered. I believe at night my mind is “weaker” and more vulnerable. Do you notice places/activities/times that cause you the most grief?

Joanna

Posted by: bipolarmystic | January 24, 2013

Science Left Behind?

Recently at work I ran across a book titled “Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left.”  For those who don’t know, I work at a library and one of my primary responsibilities involves entering new materials into our catalog.  I work on the back end “coding” all the item records so they come up when patrons search for them.  Through this responsibility and the responsibility of overseeing all inter-library loan items I am exposed to a great deal of books.  Inevitably (but rarely) I come across books I do not like and can barely stand to thumb through.  “Science Left Behind…” is one such book and this blog entry is an opinion piece.

This book basically posits that liberals have used crap science to over sensationalize a variety of topics from global warming to organic food.  I could not really bring myself to look through this book to glean greater detail about the argument.  I honestly don’t know exactly what data is out there, what scientific studies are relevant to these subjects.  That is not my purpose in writing this post.  Instead, I was immediately struck by the bitter irony that the “science” of mental illness and women’s health issues is largely crap science.  I don’t really consider myself much of a political person, but at some point politics become intrinsic to important health issues.

Recently I came across a scientific article about bipolar disorder that horrified me.  Evidently at least in some cases, rodents are given speed to mimic the manic phase of bipolar.  When I came across this study I thought perhaps it was someone’s idea of a joke.  I cannot think of a better instance of crap science than putting mice on speed and equating it to a bipolar brain.  While some of the symptoms may look similar, the fact is we have no idea what actually causes bipolar symptoms.  And it’s not speed.  I’m pretty sure this crap comes from the status quo, not “the left.”

Last week I was at a specialist for women’s hormones.  I have terrible PMS and like some women with bipolar disorder, it makes my bipolar symptoms much worse.  At the conclusion of our meeting the doctor said, “hey, at least there’s a code on my form for PMS now.”  But even with that huge leap forward >.> the options my doctor and I spoke about are not covered by insurance.  As outlined by my doctor my options are:

1) Try the IUD Meridia which shuts cycling down with a low dose of hormones released for five years: 850.00, covered by some insurers but not mine (and mine is pretty good).  Payment plans are available for Meridia, but are still pricey with only a three installment option.

2) Shots that are effective for 3 months at shutting cycling down.  2,000 a pop, not covered by insurance since it is an “off-label” use and nothing is really researched and thus “proven” to work for PMS.

3) If the shot works, I could consider having my ovaries removed, but “that might be hard to go through at my age (31).”  No idea how much this costs, I would think in the tens of thousands.

I think pretty much everyone, especially women feel that PMS is real.  It’s not fake – and I know doctors used to tell women that. If we have such limited options to treat PMS I think that’s pretty much the same thing as telling a woman she is not important.  Maybe it’s not all in her head anymore, but it’s still not important and if you happen to have a huge problem for whatever reason, well then I guess you might be out of luck.  Women’s health issues and the health issues of the mentally ill are both marginalized and dominated by shit science.  I’m pretty sure “the left” is against marginalization of all kind?

What does a person have in life in they don’t have their health?  From where should they look for guidance and flexibility to make good choices for their health?  Where should they turn to for information?  From the folks who have been running the show?  Maybe some “liberal science” is shit science.  I don’t really know – but I kind of doubt it.  And if it is shit science then people have a choice whether to believe it or not.  On the other hand, I don’t really have a choice. I have bipolar disorder.  And women’s health issues.  No one understands why because the system isn’t set up to care about us, to spend those research dollars.

Of course, this is a wider issue than just mental illness and women’s health.  There are other marginalized illnesses.  Other people who can’t afford healthcare.  Would I be employed and working on my master’s degree without health insurance?  For some, this boils down to the very fundamental question of what kind of life we are able to lead.  I am so thankful that I have health insurance, and I have a support system that continues to advocate for me when I can’t advocate for myself.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | January 14, 2013

Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Bipolar

I’ve written about sensory overload and some strategies to minimize it before, in the context of intuitive empathy.  I personally find it helpful and intriguing to look at bipolar through as many lenses as possible.  One of these lenses in the concept of sensory integration dysfunction and related concepts such as sensory defensiveness.  According to Wikipedia sensory integration dysfunction is: a hypothesized dysfunction of the vestibular system. It is characterized by increased or decreased sensitivity to stimuli.  A better definition can be found on the Wikipedia page for sensory processing disorder: this problem is a neurological disorder causing difficulties with taking in, processing, and responding to sensory information about the environment and from within one’s own body (visual, auditory, tactile, olfaction, gustatory, vestibular, and proprioception).  Sensory Integration dysfunction is not found in the holy bible of the mental health system, the DSM-V.  It does not seem to be well understood and the Wikipedia article on the “disorder” is very short.

In trolling the web for information about sensory dysfunction and bipolar disorder, I did come across a good deal of anecdotal evidence that sensory issues can be a real problem for a number of bipolar folks.  In the past I have written about how over stimulation seems to lead to hypomania for me and that my solution was to shut myself in a completely quiet, dark room.  Although I did not know about sensory dysfunction during past episodes, I recognized that further stimulation would only cause me to become more manic.  It was difficult for me to engage in sensory deprivation as I did because I had very strong urges and almost physical sensations in my body that I needed to be doing more.  At my most manic, I could not sit and write something down because it literally felt painful in my body.  Other blogs that have written about this issue agree that often mania is precipitated and worsened by inappropriately high levels of stimulation seeking behavior.

In a depressed state, over stimulation seems to happen quickly leading to high levels of irritation and a greater feeling of being overwhelmed.  This happens to me.  In particular I suffer from auditory and visual sensory defensiveness, or the inability to process auditory and visual information at the same speed and accuracy as neurotypicals.  Further, I become quickly overwhelmed and irritable when faced with “too much” visual and auditory information.  When I am depressed noises become more physically painful to me and I can handle even less stimulation.  Even on days I feel pretty stable it is fairly normal for me to wear earplugs around the house, especially if my husband and daughter are around.  Sounds like the ticking of an analog clock are unbearable for me at night time and I always wear ear plugs.  Even though I suffer from this extreme auditory sensitivity, I do not process sounds very well, particularly voices speaking to me.  I believe I hear what is said (if I don’t have ear plugs in lol) but I am constantly asking my husband “what?” and always have, since we met when I was eighteen.

woman covering earsThe book Bipolar Disorders: A Guide to Helping Children and Adolescents argues that “Although it’s rarely addressed in the medical literature, extreme auditory sensitivity is actually fairly common in people with bipolar disorders. These patients will describe many normal sounds as affecting them like fingernails scraping a blackboard…”  The book recommends trying Auditory Integration Therapy for children.  This therapy involves listening to specially filtered and modulated music.  When I spoke with my normally open minded therapist about my sensory difficulties, she seemed to believe that it’s too late to help a brain integrate it’s senses properly once you reach adulthood.  The book goes on to state that: “sensory integration difficulties seem to be more common in people with bipolar disorders than the literature would indicate. These can include over- or undersensitivity to smell, taste, texture, types of touch, and even the forces of gravity.”

The book also reinforces that sensory issues often change depending on the current stage of the bipolar cycle.  It reads: “In bipolar disorders, sensory disturbances can be cyclical. A person in a manic phase may find that she has a heightened response to certain types of sensation. This increased sensitivity may be perceived as pleasurable, but in some cases it can be painful. Bipolar children seem to be especially sensitive to sensory input when they are in a depressed-irritable state, sometimes to the point of being unable to wear their usual clothes (jeans and socks are suddenly too scratchy), eat their regular diet (everything smells gross, tastes weird, and makes them feel like retching), or handle a normal level of sensory input (the sounds and smells of school or the shopping mall become rapidly overwhelming).”

I work in a library with the public and have learned to focus my attention very closely when patrons speak to me.  Often I will lean across the desk towards them with my head turned slightly to the side so I don’t have to look at faces.  I was diagnosed with PTSD as a teen based on my depression and dislike of looking at faces.  However, I think this is a sensory filtering issue.  Scientific studies have shown that bipolar folks don’t process visual and auditory information as well as neurotypicals.  So I filter out faces, which seem to be uncomfortably stimulating, especially when I am trying to process other information.  In this way I am usually quite successful in hearing what the patron has to say.  But I don’t always understand it.  I was once asked about antique books and I thought the patron meant our heritage collection of old books rather than books on antiques.  Everyone has duh! moments but I wonder if I might have a few more.

The study linked above explores visual processing deficits found in bipolar patients as compared to those suffering from schizophrenia   Scientists are beginning to think that schizophrenia and bipolar are more closely linked than previously thought since both populations suffer from similar levels of visual processing deficits “caused by” the same electrical activity in the same regions of the brain.  I would argue that links are likely to be discovered between ADHD, autism and bipolar as well.  All of these disorders seem to have a strong sensory component.  I am considering buying a weighted blanket, which has helped some folks with bipolar get a good night’s sleep.  It has been known for quiet a while that pressure seems to soothe the inflamed nervous system, usually in the context of autism.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | January 8, 2013

Book Review – Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is not a book about bipolar.  Or at least, it it not directly about bipolar disorder.  The book is actually about many things, but the main story line follows a young woman’s descent into what at first appears to be severe mental illness.  The woman’s name is Susannah Cahalan and she raises questions in her memoir that will likely resonate with anyone who is mentally ill.  Susannah actually suffer(ed) from a rare type of encephalitis or inflammation of brain tissues due to an immune reaction.  This syndrome is called Anti-NMDA (N-methyl D-aspartate) receptor encephalitis and like many immune conditions, the cause is unknown.  Many young women appear to fall ill in conjunction with an ovarian teratoma or tumor of the ovary.  In other populations such as children, the cause is not known.  According to the book, thousands of patients have been diagnosed with this particular syndrome and related syndromes are being discovered.  Scientists believe that these syndromes are responsible for some cases of autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In the course of Susannah’s memoir she describes the course of her illness beginning with wild mood swings vacillating between crying jags and euphoria.  She is initially diagnosed as bipolar.  What comes next is nothing less than harrowing.  Cahalan descends into paranoia so severe she is next suspected of being schizophrenic.  The final stage of the illness is catatonia and in some cases, death.  By the time Susannah was admitted to NYU she was already slipping into catatonia and showed significant cognitive impairment.  Cahalan’s illness progressed quickly, in a matter of eight weeks or so by my timing.  However other patients are known to present differently, especially children.  Syndromes such as Anti-NMDA Encephalitis may explain some treatment resistant forms of mental illnesses.  It can be detected by testing the spinal fluid of the patient for white blood cells.  An elevated count indicates inflammation of brain tissues.

Treatment involves cycling the blood out of the body and replacing the harmful immune laden plasma (white blood cells).  Steroids are typically used to depress the immune system and a treatment called IVIG  is sometimes used.  IVIG is an infusion of plasma from over one thousand donors.  All in all, Susannah Cahalan’s one month stay at NYU and her treatments cost around one million dollars.  Susannah got lucky: she had very good insurance and support systems in place.  Individuals labeled with a mental illness are still quite marginalized and often find themselves with a weak support system and few financial resources.  The doctors working to discover these syndromes point out that testing the spinal fluid of all mentally ill patients is cost preventative.  How many are suffering needlessly?

36_lost-month-of-madness-1Susannah Cahalan’s memoir raises intriguing questions for those suffering from mental illness.  Is it possible that many cases of bipolar, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are caused by inflammation?  Could less severe cases be due to chronic but less severe forms of encephalitis or other inflammatory conditions?  If our mental illnesses are not caused by inflammation are we suffering from another form of brain damage?  Are the “chemical imbalances” so often cited by physicians merely the result of an insidious attack on our brains?  Do the medications we take merely remedy the symptoms of a damaged brain?  I think it is too simplistic to expect that all folks who have a mental illness may be suffering from the same underlying cause.  However, I do think it is possible that many or most folks suffering from bipolar may have related underlying causation such as inflammatory conditions.  Anti-NDMA encephalitis is a brand new diagnosis, discovered only through one doctor’s observations of unusual similarities in a group of “mentally ill” young women.  In other words, in the past people with Anti-NDMA encephalitis would have been, without question relegated to an institution under the false belief they suffered from severe mental illness.  I can’t help but wonder if we too are just waiting for the discoveries and treatments that will illuminate the biological mechanisms responsible for our suffering.

The book is an unusual memoir because Susannah can’t actually remember a great deal of the time during which her encephalitis raged.  Footage from hospital cameras, brief diary entries and recollections of her family fill in the blanks.  Instead of creating distance, Cahalan skillfully intersperses these fragments with her present day, haunted voice.  Susannah is haunted by the time she lost and although she has a biological explanation for what happened to her, she still suffers the spiritual fragility of a person whose life went straight to hell.  Many of the issues Cahalan still struggles with will resonate with the mentally ill.  She fears a relapse.  She wonders if she is still the same person, with the same capabilities.  She also feels guilt that she survived and wonders how many people like her are locked away in institutions and nursing homes.  Overall, Cahalan’s story is an excellent echo of the experiences and concerns of mentally ill individuals.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | December 28, 2012

Bipolar and Reiki

According to my first Reiki teacher: “Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It’s administered by laying on hands and can be easily learned by anyone.”  In my early twenties I suffered greatly from the ups and downs of bipolar and was taught Reiki by William Rand near Detroit.  At that time in my life I searched obsessively for anything that might cure my wild instability (which was as yet un-diagnosed).  Reiki did not cure me, but I did find a remarkable tool in my arsenal against the problems that ailed me.

Essentially Reiki is an energy healing technique.  It is Japanese in origin, and passed down through attunements from a master to a student.  Dr. Mikao Usui founded the practice of Reiki in the early 1920’s and stories tell us he received his attunement during a period of intense fasting and meditation.  I don’t personally have much experience in energy healing besides Reiki and Quantum Touch.  However I know that Reiki is not like many forms of energy healing.  The “healer” does not generate the energy.  It is believed to come from a higher power outside ourselves.  Reiki practitioners are required to do little to “turn on” the energy, only intend that it begin to flow.  Practitioners can also visualize specific symbols that are believed to help with certain issues and it is said that no negative energy is ever picked up by a Reiki practitioner.

I know some folks still feel wary of energy healing and think it might be a little woo-woo.  It’s not understood by science.  There is some research out there, but it rarely is vigorous enough to satisfy nay-sayers.  One scientist by the name of William Bengston has published a book called “The Energy Cure: Unraveling the Mystery of Hands-on Healing.”  In an interview he discusses the difficulty of a traditional scientific experiment with energy healing.  Essentially, mice were given cancer and cured 100% of the time by energy healers.  However, the control mice proved problematic.  A traditionally designed scientific study assumes that subjects can be segregated with ease.  However, Bengston found that mice raised together and shipped together resonated together.  Healing on non-control mice affected the control mice even though they were not physically together.

I still remember when the studies came out on prayer.  These studies fit into societal values and were well accepted, I think.  The studies found that prayer works.  Even individuals who don’t know they are being prayed for had better outcomes than control groups.  Will science ever be able to explain the mechanism behind prayer?  How about the mechanism behind bipolar?  In my opinion, prayer is an intention and Reiki is an intention as well.  For a Reiki practitioner the intention is mostly to get out of the way and allow the highest good to take place.  If prayer works why in the world wouldn’t energy healing?

To me, Reiki is a great place to start if a person is interested in energy healing.  It’s profoundly relaxing for the facilitator as well as the receiver.  I like it because I can be really lazy.  All I have to do is put my hands on myself, intend that the Reiki flow and then get out of the way.  Many times I have used Reiki to help me get back to sleep.  Lately I have noticed a tendency in me to try and control the Reiki.  If you want to be in control and directing things, Reiki might not be for you.  I have found this actually stifles the energy, much the same way a cramped calf stifles you from running forward any further.

I have used Reiki as a tool for myself far more than to help others.  However, I have been involved in a couple healing groups that were for Reiki.  The first group was a huge blessing in my life, but the second got a little strange.  Good groups generate wonderful energy.  So how can this help you in your bipolar life?  How has it helped me?  Reiki is an obvious tool to help manage stress and anxiety before it explodes into an episode.  It can help you sleep better, I find it helps me especially if I lay my hands on my head.  When I was very involved in Reiki I do feel it had a stabilizing effect on me.  You can run the energy to your medications, intending that only the good stuff gets through (remove side effects).

You can run Reiki to your food and water (sometimes called “charging”) to increase your health.  Use it in conjunction with meditation/intentions/prayers.  I often write out intentions and then hold them in my hands and run Reiki to them.  Intentions have often been a powerful force for me.  Even with the best medications or stabilizing forces we all need help achieving what we wish to achieve.  The symbols and Reiki energy can you help you achieve goals.  In my own observation, Reiki is a subtle and gentle form of energy healing.  This is very good for folks who tend to be a bit on the unstable side because it does not overwhelm.  This is not an energy healing technique that claims to knit bones or heal burns.  Although I’m certain Reiki would help with those issues, it tends to work more on the emotional/mental body than the physical, at lease from my personal experience.

I’m sure there are a million great ways to use Reiki, and some really innovative ways to use it in conjunction with bipolar.  Ironically I used it more before I knew I was bipolar.  I think what Reiki is trying to teach my right now is acceptance.  My job, studying for my Master’s and the demands of family have led me to become quite rigid.  But unlike my latest class assignment, Reiki doesn’t bend to my will!  It has it’s own time frame that I may not like.  As observed by the aforementioned author of the energy book, energy healing doesn’t work the way you would expect it to.  The energy healing techniques used by researchers did not immediately eradicate cancer cells in the sick mice.  It worked more subtly than that.  Running Reiki as I write this, I feel more at peace with myself and the world and the demands upon my time.  More interesting research on energy and energy healing can be found here.

Namaste

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers