Posted by: bipolarmystic | March 25, 2015

Conformity vs Connection

My last blog post explores the wisdom in Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking.”  Palmer’s book ultimately urges us to be open and vulnerable, creating opportunities and true connection.  Palmer’s personal experiences with asking are compelling.  Through asking, Amanda was the first crowd-funded musician to break one million dollar funded on Kickstarter.  Palmer was able to achieve this because she has devoted enormous time and energy and emotional currency to her fan base, her extended family.  In essence, her fans have asked to be part of her life.  She has let them.  When they asked, she answered honestly be revealing herself.  In return, when she asks she is also answered.  She experiences the inevitable give and receive, karmic wheel, that results from being open with the world.

Palmer’s description of her community reminded me how much I long for connection.  Too often, I turn away from opportunities for connection.  Connection is about letting people see exactly who you are, and when you’ve been defined as less worthy by the majority culture this becomes particularly difficult.  For folks labeled “bi-polar” our yardstick of normalcy can become those things valued by majority culture (to be “normal”).  Psychiatrists, for instance, are interested in whether we are exercising, eating right, holding a job, etc.  None of this is bad, but neither does it encourage a life full of creative thought or vibrant emotion.  We are overtly or covertly encouraged by our culture to cover ourselves in a mantle of grey, to dilute our creativity, deny our emotions, dismiss our worth.

Palmer has found her community: those who value artists, which is not a given in our culture.  As an artist, Palmer has been haunted by the refrain she faced as a street performer “get a job!”  Which I think really means: “conform to majority values!”  Like Palmer, you and I are probably not going to qualify anytime soon.  It is legitimate not to conform, even if we do believe we have a “mental illness.”  That does not mean we should conform to be happy, which is what I thought for a long time.  Again, I lost my internal yardstick in the personal devastation that followed my affair and bi-polar diagnoses.  I was desperate to control whatever destructive impulses led me down that path.

The truth is, we can never be happy trying to conform to any type of external yardstick.  If we are worried what people think, how we measure up to others, if we’re a good enough X, we will be miserable.  I would argue that conformity is always the enemy of connection.  At least, I believe this is true of majority American values.  Our culture values things like: working very long hours, acquiring possessions and most destructive of all, self-sufficiency to the extreme.  I believe that this trend will continue because making people feel disconnected and ashamed is profitable.  Companies profit from shaming the “heavy” folks into dieting and the “mentally ill” folks into medication.  While some people may find help in medication, I think many others may not given the risk/benefit equation.  And the question remains: would any of us need medication if our culture embraced values such as: connection, simplicity and compassion (even those labeled schizophrenic reportedly do much better in other cultures)?

What I think is important to understand is that approximately 99% of the population is struggling to embrace inherent self-worth, separate from anything external.  I think the best example of this is babies.  Who would argue that a baby is inherently worthwhile?  All they really do is consume resources, they don’t do anything.  However, they are inherently worthwhile and precious.  As a mother I cannot imagine a time when I won’t feel this way.  No matter what my child goes on to do or not do – she is inherently magnificent.  We all are!

Posted by: bipolarmystic | March 25, 2015

My Thoughts on Labels

If you are reading this blog:

1)  Thank you!  I started and continue to write this blog to process my own thoughts and ideas.  I am surprised and thankful that anyone finds it interesting.  My long term goal is to create more of a community centered around those interested in the multi-dimensional aspects of “mental illness,” spirituality, science and just general life.

2)  You have probably noticed I include quotations around many labels, such as “bi-polar” and “mental illness.”  This is for many reasons, my own opinion being that labels are always imperfect, reductionist and sometimes very insulting.  Nonetheless, such labels seem to be necessary if readers are going to understand what I am talking about!

Labels such as “mental illness” and “bi-polar” are:

  • Insulting and inaccurate because the science and medical fields have “proven” that within the medical model, “mental illness” is the result of brain chemistry or organic presentation that is different than those not labeled “mentally ill.”
  • Is reductionist because the label originates from within the medical model.  The label discounts other models of the phenomenon in question.  It also groups people with significant differences together.
  • Is inaccurate because it fails to convey that “mental illness” is often on a spectrum with those not considered “mentally ill.”
  • Insulting because mental processes are separate and the result of brain chemistry, organic structure.  Labeling the phenomenon “mental illness” implies that the individual has some control over the “disorder” which is likely difficult to perhaps impossible in some cases.
  • Blames the victim/victimizes those experiencing the phenomenon.  Implies the “mentally ill” should alternatively be able to control mental processes or that they suffer from a disorder when another model would empower those experiencing the phenomenon.  Allows physicians to divorce themselves from truly helping individuals return to wholeness.
  • Is a highly imperfect understanding of a phenomenon.  The medical model has continued to change over the years.  Other factors are undoubtably at work that may be explained by biological or spiritual processes.
  • Harkens back to an age when “mental illness” was thought to be the result of demonic possession, moral failure, etc.
  • Encourages stigmitization by reducing and inaccurately describing the phenomenon.
Posted by: bipolarmystic | March 10, 2015

Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking”

“Take the fucking flower”

This is Amanda Palmer’s plea, one she perfected while working as a street performer.  Palmer enacted a bride statue and theatrically handed out flowers to passerby who put money in her hat.  According to Palmer, the transaction was not one way.  Intensely gazing into the eyes of her patrons, Palmer silently communicated intimacy in the form of “I love you.”  Palmer describes these encounters as briefly falling in love.  Sad people, lonely people, homeless people, curious people, all kinds of flowerpeople paid Palmer for her performances.  In return, Palmer truly acknowledged and communicated value to those who perhaps felt most value-less.  And she gave them a flower.  But some people didn’t want the flower.  Those who rejected the flower refused to participate in the intimacy Palmer offered.

In The Art of Asking, Palmer, who is a member of the Dresden Dolls and Grand Theft Orchestra recounts the gifts she receives and obvious happiness she experiences because she asked.  The reader doesn’t need to be an artist to resonate deeply with Palmer’s message, which is ultimately about the opportunities that arise when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  The deep marrow of the book is contrasted with joyful recollections of serendipity and generosity, mixed with a healthy dose of profanity.  I suspect Palmer’s “brand” of wisdom will particularly appeal to my age group (30’s) and younger generations.

Palmer’s message is particularly appealing to me as I develop absolute clarity about what I need and want, following the arrival of my baby.  I find myself ruthlessly prioritizing what’s important and what’s not.  Reading and writing while holding baby in one arm has proved cathartic and essential to keeping my brain in some kind of working order.  And lately I have been *forced* to ask for help.  As in: I can’t take it anymore I completely overwhelmed and I must ask for help before I LOSE IT!  Why do we allow ourselves to get to this point?  I know I’m not alone in this.  Our culture demands that we operate as individuals, that we handle shit ourselves.  To handle our shit alone is deeply alienating.  Is it any wonder that relationships fracture, buried under the weight of unspoken needs and expectations…things we are afraid to ask for?

Even Palmer struggles to ask for what she needs from her husband (who happens to be Neil Gaiman).  Following an abortion recommended by her doctor because of the certainty of “really, really bad” birth defects, Gaiman leaves Amanda to stew in her own shit.  Palmer expects Gaiman to understand what she needs: cuddles, loving words, connection.  After finally asking Gaiman what his problem is, he reveals a childhood bereft of comfort.  He was taught that people should be left alone to work through things on their own.  So why did Palmer, queen of asking, wait until she was nearly bursting with resentment to ask for what she needed?

Sometimes it’s hardest to be vulnerable with those we care about most.  And I find it’s really, really hard to ask for help when you’ve been labeled “mentally ill.”  At a particularly low point (I later realized I had PMS preceding my first period) my husband urged me to call my folks in Florida and ask them to return home to Michigan and help with baby.  My reponse?  “I cannot express how much I really, really don’t want to do that.”  (Yes I really do talk like that sometimes)  My parents have praised me many times for dealing with my shit.  My mom says she never expected me to be able to achieve so much, to do so well in life.  How should I take that?  I take it like this: get it together yourself, don’t let them see exactly who I am because who I am will be a disappointment.  So when my mom called soon after, I said “I’m feeling a little blue” NOT “oh fuck I can’t do thisssss” *punctuated by tears and breathing into a panic bag.*  Also – I would NEVER actually say “fuck” in front of my mom.

Of course, part of it is not wanting my parents to have to return from sunny, wonderful Florida.  And as luck would have it, my adult niece was delighted to help once I asked her.  It ends up being a wonderful exchange: she delights in caring for sweet-tempered baby and I get to take a bath.  Or clean bottles.  Usually it’s cleaning bottles.  It really is like the biblical quote: ask and ye shall receive (most of the time).  Certainly asking does create the possibility of receiving “no” in return.  However, as Palmer notes, most people want to help.  Sometimes people offer to help before we even ask.

Asking is so difficult for some of us, particularly those who feel like they have something to prove, those marginalized by society.  As Palmer notes, artists are in some sense marginalized.  They constantly have to battle internal and external messages that taunt “get a job.”  I think it’s fair to say that many American folks reject art as a legitimate career path.  They reject artists as legitimate people, just as they reject the homeless, the “mentally ill,” and many other “types” of people.

We all need to strongly reject the cultural message that some people are not worth a damn.  We should find our follow freaks, rejects, hipsters, mystics, hippies or whatever the fuck kind of community we can belong in.  Find those folks who we can feel safe asking, who we can feel safe being ourselves, which is ultimately asking: “Am I worth loving.”  In those few instances when we ecounter a “no” it’s all the more important to lean on a supportive community, those who will constantly say: “Yes, yes, yes!!”  For those labeled “mentally ill” it can be hard to find a legitimizing community.  My advice: avoid those who make you feel less able.  Instead, find the people who will support you, cheerleaders that will call you on your bullshit just like they would anyone else.  Make the first overture, be vulnerable with those worth your time.  Build yourself a community.  And when legitimate, no strings attached, ableist help arises TAKE THE FUCKING FLOWER.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | September 23, 2014

Life Change and Clarity

I’m going through a huge life change right now awaiting the birth of my second daughter in January.  Many things are different this time.  With my first daughter I was eighteen and to things were very rocky.  But I was delighted to be carrying this little person who I would love and receive love from unconditionally.  I just didn’t feel like I had that anywhere else in my life.  These days, I feel like I’m prepared to give a lot more but paradoxically also a whole lot more stuck in my head.  With my first daughter, I was too young too really worry about being a good parent.

This time around I’ve already started thinking about school options!  The truth is that I really want to be perfect.  And I know that the attempt to be perfect robs us of who we really are.  It makes us inauthentic to ourselves and others.  We become rigid, unable to admit mistakes but tirelessly beating ourselves up over them.  Thinking about asking for help is unimaginable.  We don’t know what we really want anymore, because we just have to be perfect.  Reading simplicity books like The Power of Less and Walden on Wheels has helped me understand how important clarity is.

My life has been a struggle between what I thought I ought to be doing and accomplishing and what I actually wanted.  This occurred because I came to associate things like a good career, college degrees, etc. with being “normal” instead of the agony of being “bipolar.”  When you are given a label such as “bipolar” doctors and therapists think they are being helpful by giving you a simple yardstick: are you able to achieve a “normal” and “functional” life?  No one ever considers that the yardstick, the cultural norms, may be a huge part of the problem for some folks.

And when I did pursue things like advanced degrees, I did so with the overriding desire to achieve perfect grades.  Learning was/is secondary.  I was damn well going to prove I could achieve that yardstick.  But over the past couple years, since I started reading about simplicity and since my husband had an affair, I began to realize that pursuing the yardstick isn’t for me.  It was amazing and very sad sometimes to realize things that I had felt so torn about and invested so much energy in just weren’t important to me.  At all.  So in the bigger picture sense, I did have some understanding of what I did and did not want in my life.

I became more flexible.  If I felt like my school classes were getting in the way of family or my own happiness, I would drop down to one.  I felt completely comfortable with my choice, where before I would feel lazy and guilty.  I did some volunteering for the first time.  My husband and I decided to buy a modest home.  And now I’m pregnant!  And the only problem is, while I might feel like I have the larger picture in mind, I still feel like I’m floundering day to day.

I’m having a hard time connecting where I want to go with the small actions I need to do every day to get there.  I don’t like goals.  I find that for myself goals can be problematic because I set myself on this course I determined some time ago.  It then becomes about achieving the goal, and I might not realize that things have changed and the goal is no longer as important to me.  Or maybe it’s not important at all!  After reading The Power of Less I realized that my master’s degree just isn’t very important to me.  Luckily I’m on the last class but some days it just feels wrong to be putting so much time and energy into it.

These days Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, doesn’t set goals.  According to his blog, he just does what he wants to do every day and it gets him to where he wants to be.  Right now I’m having a hard time grasping this.  And yet I feel like it’s so important to learn to listen inside to what I really need and want before baby #2 arrives.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | August 25, 2014

The Power of Less

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta is a slim volume with a huge impact.  Have you ever gotten yourself on a path, convinced it was the one for you, only to realize how unfulfilled certain areas of your life are?  The Power of Less is a wonderfully simple book on simplicity.  Just reading the first couple of chapters have led me to realize that the path I’m on doesn’t have everything I need.  Babauta asks the question: what’s essential?  When I started asking myself that question I came up with unexpected answers.  In my early 20’s (I am now 32) I was part of a couple wonderful spiritual group.  I was part of a tiny, intimate really, interfaith church.  I formed a very close friendship with the minister and was ordained myself.  This group was really magic, they were my community.  I always felt so valued, 1275498895ThePowerOfLessencouraged and loved among this special group of people.  With their support, I ministered a young woman in JV and taught a spiritual class at the local metaphysical shop. 

So what happened with all this?  It felt apart, but not for the usual reasons.  Many times in groups you will find personality conflicts and drama.  The magic of the center, in part, was that this never happened.  What did happen in the end, I’m not sure.  After my affair, I was in a deep and terrible depression.  I blamed some of what happened on my “new-age” involvement, thinking I was flying a little high with it.  Plus, I was so angry at God/Goddess/whatever you call it if you believe in that sort of thing.  The next thing I new my dear friend, minister of the group, had departed to live out West on an American Indian reservation.  Everyone went their separate ways.  And I was left with a hole in my heart that I tried to ignore, or worse, fill with other groups of people that didn’t quite fit.  And now I realize something that’s essential to me: community.  I realized that I felt my happiest when I was part of that group. 

But just any community won’t do, I get that now.  I tried another group and it ended badly for everyone.  I’m still friends with a couple of people, but the whole thing was so unnecessary if I had really acknowledged that I was measuring against my earlier experiences.  So no, a Unitarian church probably won’t do, or a group of friends that are disconnected, or a buy nothing group, etc.  I also wonder if I’ve been measuring my friendships against the one I lost.  But, right now it feels impossible that I will ever find another group where I get the same feelings of total acceptance, value, etc.  It really feels like something I might have to start myself.  EEEKK!           

Babauta says we should take those things that are most essential to us and let everything else go.  According to his principles, I should pick one or two goals to put my energy into.  Yes, of course, there are things that have to be done every day that aren’t essential.  Apply this tenant to your stuff and every task during the day and you will free up time to do what is essential.  What is most essential to complete today?  What will have the biggest impact on what is essential to you?  If it is essential to you to be healthy and cook meals, maybe that should be higher on the list than finishing laundry – as long as you have a few clean garments to get you through!  Ask yourself – is this object essential to you?  Does it get used?  Is it cherished as a decorative object?  Or is it a waste of time?  Remember, everything you buy you then have to bring home and care for.  You have to find a place for it, keep it good condition, possibly fix it and clean it/around it. 

I had a eureka moment thinking about everything Babauta has to say.  Do you have a friend or acquaintance you are in awe of because they are truly very happy and seem able to accomplish so much?  I found myself measuring my worth against such an acquaintance: she has a home business supplying spiritual supplies, two young children and enjoys a bull’s constitution that allows her to do everything on little sleep.  Plus, she is a very generous person.  How does she do it all?  The secret that I’m pretty sure she knows without really articulating is: she focuses on what’s essential to her.  This gives her tremendous energy.  Note that being super busy and accomplishing a lot without being happy doesn’t count!  I have vacillated between extremely low energy and high energy periods.  However, usually I have not been happy with what I accomplished.  I think that it’s hard to even recognize everything that we do accomplish because we are so scattered, thinking about the next thing we have to do.  This, combined with pursuing things that aren’t essential to us is so draining. 

So what’s the solution?  Babauta says goals are important.  But unlike many people, we shouldn’t be setting a ton of goals.  Instead, we should have one or two big goals.  A big part of what Babauta is teaching is focus.  By focusing on one or two of our most essential goals, we can achieve quicker results more easily because we focus.  Using these same principles, you can try cutting back on anything, say checking emails.  Check your emails as few times as possible, give yourself a week to figure out what that magic number is.  But it doesn’t end there – consider which emails are most essential or have the biggest impact.  Read, answer or send only those essential emails and leave the rest for another day – or delete them. 

Posted by: bipolarmystic | August 19, 2014

Where this blog is going

Bipolar Mystic no longer feels like home to me.  It hasn’t for quite awhile.  The truth is, the bipolar aspect of my life is no longer very important to me.  I rarely think about it anymore.  The constant questions about why I’m the way I am, whether bipolar or empathic or something else, no longer fill my attention.  In some sense, that process was deeply narcissistic.  A necessary narcissism, born of the need to come to terms with myself.  I can’t say that task is at all complete, but it no longer seems helpful to focus solely on one particular aspect of my life.  Perhaps it’s because I am usually rock-solid now.  It could be that medication and greater understanding prevents the mental anguish that demands the answer to the question: why am I like this?  

And yet, I still find the world of spirit and mind utterly fascinating.  I love to read about autism, which I feel may be related to bi-polar.  I find myself more interested in learning about things outside my own experience now.  When I began writing this blog I had little understanding of what I wanted in life and what values I wished to live with.  Examining my values was an extremely embarrassing and painful process that didn’t always happen gracefully.  I was very lucky to be part of a spiritual group that really challenged my thinking.  I wasn’t aware of the culturally instilled crap I walked around with.  Some things just weren’t at all on my radar and now I can’t imagine being unaware of those issues. 

Eventually, I think, our focus has to turn away from the self if we are to truly express ourselves as unique individuals.  Our suffering and sensitivity can lead to a greater empathy with those that suffer marginalization of any kind.  However, first we must sanitize ourselves of poisonous cultural ideas about folks living on the edge of society.  If this blog is to continue, it must embrace wider issues of social justice.  I’m not an expert on any of it but I feel like through my reading I get a sliver of the whole picture.  Yet even a sliver is informative, shocking and motivating.  The dis-ease we all suffer to a certain degree certainly has some powerful roots in our culture.  I feel that focusing on these issues has become the natural progression for me after focusing on the self.  And so, expect to see changes in the tone and focus of Bipolar Mystic.  Namaste.

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?

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