Posted by: bipolarmystic | November 1, 2016

Managing Sensory Issues

As always, I encourage everyone to experiment and find what works for them.  That being said, these are the strategies I use to help with my sensory issues.


People with sensory issues, whether ASD or SPD, are wired with a very sensitive nervous system.  Brain scans of neurotypical vs folks on the spectrum have revealed processing differences.  In folks with ASD, portions of the brain related to different sensory processing (auditory, tactile, etc.) remain more active than brains of neurotypical folks.  Basically, we can’t filter different sensory stimuli as well as neurotypicals.  This means we quickly get overwhelmed in environments with multiple stimuli occurring at once.  Depending on the sensitivity level, this could include the hum of a refrigerator and aggravating lights.  Or it could mean we can’t tolerate co-workers chatting while trying to work.

General Lifestyle:

My sensory issues and stress levels parallel.  Anything I can do to reduce my stress and anxiety reduces my sensory difficulties.  While they never go away, they also aren’t debilitating when I take appropriate action.  With this in mind, I find it helpful to eat a whole foods based diet.  Exercise really helps.  I take a few curated supplements such as fish oil, vitamin d and magnesium.


My stress levels go up when I have to look at a bunch of random crap in my home or work environment.  I can’t focus.  Spending time cleaning and organizing stuff that isn’t highly useful or inspires joy is soul draining.  My stress levels go up when I’m trying to maintain relationships that don’t make me happy or when I’m engaged in activities I don’t enjoy.  Editing life to include only those activities and people who make me happy helps!


Be mindful of voluntary stimuli, such as checking Facebook.  Everything that you see and the posts that spark reaction cost valuable processing power.  Be careful with tv and video games as well.  Some content may be relaxing and enjoyable while some might just bring you down.  I even try to avoid depressing books.  I find that the worse I am feeling the easier it is to zone out on media that makes things worse.  It is sometimes difficult for folks on the spectrum to understand what they are feeling.  It is really important to be mindful and avoid snowballing the effects of being overwhelmed.

Routine & Rest (sensory breaks):

I find that the morning is most productive for me.  This is because my nervous system has rested all night.  As the day goes on it is quite likely that our nervous systems need a rest!  This can simply mean taking a break with earplugs in a dark room.  Or it can involve taking an actual nap.  I plan and prep food for my day in the morning.  Basically, using the morning to focus on what’s most important to you can be really helpful.

Minimize Sensory Stimulation:

It may be necessary to consider different living / working arrangements.  Some work situations are really going to be difficult, such as working retail in a store with music.  People with sensory issues need lots of personal space and the ability to shut everything out at least for brief periods of time.  Working in environments such as a library is absolutely ideal.  Obviously this isn’t going to be feasible for everyone or even most people, but get creative and flexible.  If you are in a difficult situation, it is even more important to try and minimize sensory input and make good choices in your general lifestyle.

Emergency Sensory Kits:

These are often used by folks on the spectrum.  I can get by carrying an extra pair of earplugs and wearing sunglasses.  I wear sunglasses most of the time when I am not at home.  I know it may look strange to others when I continue wearing them inside stores, etc., but I don’t care.  I can avoid looking others in the eyes (uncomfortable for those on the spectrum) and it helps alleviates aggravating lights.  It is extremely important to do what feels right for you, there is no reason to put an additional burden on your nervous system and life if you can avoid doing so with no (or little) consequence.  If you are always cold like I am, carry an extra layer at all times.  Make sure to have healthy snacks and water on hand.  I always carry snacks!!

Pay Attention!

It really wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I really started to understand that I was having sensory issues!  This may sound crazy but I was really led down all sorts of different paths by therapists, etc., since I began truly having difficulties at age 11.  It is true that many folks on the spectrum may have difficulty truly figuring out what is bothering them.  I existed in a constantly overwhelmed and shut down space.  I was not capable of determining what was wrong.  Even now, I pay more attention and understand more of the issues I am experiencing.

Definitely focus on the most difficult issues first.  Sacrifices may be necessary.  I like cute clothes, but I have found that unless I’m wearing super soft cotton tees and yoga pants, I am really bothered, aggravated and distracted.  Since I’m at home with my little one, that’s all I wear now.  It’s no use expending valuable energy on something that doesn’t really matter.  I also realized that I want to look cute and feminine to others, I have some insecurity there.  I had to make a decision about what was most important, my ego, or my sanity!!!

Other Help:

Some folks find weighted blankets and dry brushing help.  I have tried weighted blankets and they don’t work for me.  However, I like the gentle pressure of a medium weight comforter year round and I sleep with a pillow over my head.  Certain objects can also be helpful and calming.  I love to rub tumbled rocks between my fingers.  I also enjoy liquid bubble bottles.  I have a glitter wand with the same effect that I love to mess with.  Again, this is probably very odd to some people.  Oh well!

Do What Feels Right:

I can’t stress this enough, you really have to let go of what other people may think.  The only exception being: you do need to maintain a certain level of professionalism if you work.  Be creative and flexible in those situations.  Search for sensory friendly clothes.  Invest in mix and match pieces of higher quality natural fabrics.  Don’t try to be the most fashion forward unless you have no issues with clothing and genuinely love fashion.  Use breaks wisely.  Hint: DON’T browse Facebook!!  At home and in your social life, respect yourself enough to do what feels right to you.  Wear what you want, let people know what you need, surround yourself with folks who are okay with your quirks.  Save your energy for what matters most to you.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | October 21, 2016

Why I Self-Identify as Autistic

For many years I wondered about parallels between my own experiences and those of folks on the spectrum.  I always dismissed the possibility because I believed those with autism lacked emotional range (so not true).

Then, about a year ago, I began noticing and reading articles about females on the spectrum.  This led me to several books about “mild” or “Asperger’s” type autism in females.  Viewing my past through the lens of autism, some of my most difficult experiences suddenly began to make sense.

ASD in females particularly can look very different than males, especially when the traits are “mild.”  Folks on the spectrum are very diverse and “mild” might describe an individual who can care for themselves, but cannot understand how to make friends.  In one or more areas they may function nearly like a neurotypical.

Aspergian females may appear quite neurotypical, especially to strangers and acquaintances.  Just Google or search youtube for autism and women.  It blew my mind when I did so.  They seem so “normal.”  They seem just like me.

When I told a psychiatrist my suspicions, I was worried he might be dismissive.  ASD in females is not always well understood.  He was not dismissive, but I was told that getting a diagnosis as an adult would be difficult and potentially quite expensive.  I may seek an official dx in the future, but for now I am content with self-identifying.  Most people on the spectrum are fairly accepting of that, but some feel it can lead to lack of treatment for other disorders.  A few are simply annoyed that lots of folks seem to be jumping on the ASD bandwagon.  I honestly just can’t give a f*ck about other people’s opinion (especially strangers) of me any longer.  I have run the gamut of diagnoses and interventions, none of which really fit.  For example, the only time I was ever truly “manic” was when I was on antidepressants.  I couldn’t sleep when on anti-depressants and many folks on the spectrum are quite sensitive to medications.

Also, I have a love / hate relationship with labels.  It is sometimes helpful to have a label that a loved one could perhaps look up online or read a book on.  It is sometimes helpful to have a label so you can find understanding, support and a community.  It is sometimes helpful to have a label you can advocate for.  It is not helpful when you end up in a box with all sorts of generalizations, misconceptions and limitations placed on you.  Either by yourself or others.

I think it is very painful for many women on the spectrum.  I do believe many can benefit from diagnosis or at least awareness of ASD in females.  Many are never diagnosed or misdiagnosed, often as bipolar.  Because folks on the spectrum are often quite sensitive to medication, this can really cause problems (although some might be considered to have concurrent issues).

Like many women on the spectrum, I can blend pretty successfully with neurotypicals, at least for limited time periods.  This is because we can mimic social interactions that we observe.  Unfortunately, we sometimes apply the wrong script to a situation.  Or if the situation is unlike what we have experienced in the past, we may freeze or act “inappropriately.”  It is honestly very exhausting.  Very difficult to know what we actually need / want / enjoy and what we need to do just to “pass.”  It can also be quite painful / embarrassing to never know if you are saying or acting the right way.  I have so often felt like a phony.  I often feel bad that I have what feels like no friends.  I can’t keep up with friends because I don’t know how.

Often the exhaustion leads to limited choices.  For example, working full time but having no energy for friends, no partner, etc.  Having a family but feeling completely overwhelmed by children.  It is extremely painful if you don’t understand why.  You can definitely feel like a bad person.

When I was younger I was involved with a spiritual group that I felt quite comfortable in.  I first met and formed a friendship with the leader of the group.  At that time, and in the circles I was in, it was fine to be weird and “quirky.”  Because our group was definitely not interested in cultural norms.  The group slowly grew and I was able to meet people one by one or occasionally in twos.  But I always felt my friend, the leader, was my touchstone.  I didn’t have to act a certain way or be afraid (I can be quite fearful of people).

Some years later I joined another group.  The dynamic was totally different and I couldn’t find my touchstone.  I met several people at once.  I was anxious all the time because group norms were much more liberal (some practiced flexible lifestyles such as polyamory, etc.) and I didn’t know how to react (I didn’t have a script for this).  There were quite a few nights at clubs, also.  As you might imagine that is totally overwhelming for me and I have to drink to excess to cope.  I also have a very difficult time processing what is being said if more than one person is talking.  I just couldn’t find my place.  I was trying to apply scripts and really just ending up pissing people off who could see I was phony.  It was a clusterf*ck.  Just as an aside, I am fine with polyamory, etc.  I couldn’t give a f*ck.  But at the time it was all new to me and I just didn’t know how to react.  If I reacted in the “wrong” way (i.e. differing opinion) I felt really judged.

Since then, I have really been turned off to groups of any kind.

So, that’s just a small example.  There have definitely been times in my life where people are pissed off with me and I have no idea why.  I might figure it out later, but processing in the moment often doesn’t work because just being with another person can be overwhelming at times.

I think some women on the spectrum pay a really high price.  If a man isn’t very social, it’s not that big of deal.  If a woman isn’t very social or needs social interaction in just a certain way, it can seem a bit odd to people.  Women often do need friends and perhaps desire a partner.  Men on the spectrum may feel less of a need for that.

Similarly, if a man isn’t social with his co-workers nobody gives a f*ck.  If a woman isn’t social she might become the victim of bullying or nasty gossip at work.  She might just be seen as a cold person, which is usually furthest from the truth.

When I was younger, my sensory issues were debilitating at times.  Minor sounds were painful.  I couldn’t tolerate touching.  I have actually reflex hit people at times when they touched me unexpectedly.  I was a mess, I felt completely batsh*t crazy.  I couldn’t tolerate my toddler.  Things are better now because I understand when I’m having a hard time and go rest in a dark room with earplugs in.

A lot of women who aren’t aware of ASD are just struggling to get through life with no understanding of why life is so f*cking hard.  I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have a family that has always understood I am not neurotypical and usually tried to support me in whatever way they could.

In case you are interested, two books I read include Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and I am AspienWoman by Tania A. Marshall.

Here is a link to the list of female ASD traits from Apergirls.



Posted by: bipolarmystic | October 7, 2016

Health Fads VS Common Sense

Disclaimer: I’m all about each individual doing what makes sense in their own individual life and circumstances.  If you find that a specific “fad” actually makes a lot of sense for you, adds value to your life, that’s great.

However, if you are like me, I suspect that at least on occasion you have been suckered into a “health” purchase that added absolutely no value to your life.  In fact, it may have added a deficit to your life, spending precious time and money researching and purchasing unnecessary items.  Filling our landfills with more packaging and perhaps unused products.  Creating guilt, frustration and anxiety when a “health” product does not improve life.

In my minimalist journey, I’ve started decluttering my kitchen.  Living a busy life, like many of us, I had crammed foods and supplements into drawers and cupboards.  I didn’t even know I owned half the items I discovered.

It’s completely understandable and laudable that we, especially as neurodiverse individuals, are looking for more “natural” and “healthy” ways to improve our being.  Perhaps it is not surprising when many of these products fail to deliver.  What works for one person isn’t going to work for another.  And perhaps some products don’t really work at all.

I have a long history of trying just about every supplement / vitamin out there to improve my anxiety and depression (I no longer believe I have BP, I will expand on that at the end if you are interested).

Let me tell you where this got me: in trouble.  Especially as a younger person, I used many supplements without proper research.  I wasn’t really aware of what I was going through day-to-day to even notice if I was benefitting or not.  But I certainly noticed when I had a negative reaction, which happened quite a few times.  It was an extremely frustrating and disheartening cycle.  Time and again I hoped a supplement / vitamin / health fad would give me significant relief.  The products never delivered.

You know what did deliver?  The simple, common sense measures.

I found running seriously tamed my anxiety.  Although I’ve tried medications like Klonopin, I found running more effective.  It lasts longer and has no troublesome side effects when done in moderation.

A vegan diet really helped, I think because I was eating whole foods.  Vegans who are embracing the lifestyle for health reasons don’t really have the luxury of buying processed foods (yes, oreos are vegan >.>).  Note: I don’t believe that veganism is a fad diet.  It’s probably the best way for us to be eating as long as we consume whole vegan foods.  Later down the road I am following a more paleo “rotation” diet at the recommendation of my chiropractor.  While I have generally not found it to be very helpful (I don’t even like meat), I noticed a HUGE difference when I cut cane sugar out.  Cutting back on foods with sugar (fruit, etc.) in general helped.

Learning / receiving Reiki really helped.  Now, I think you can probably get many of the benefits I experience just from setting aside quiet time.  Whether to rest, journal, meditate, just give your thoughts some room to breathe.  Notice more.  Relax.

A few curated supplements DO help.  These are items with a good track record: fish oil, magnesium and vitamin D.  Since I only take a few, I can afford higher quality.  I am careful to purchase a brand of fish oil tested for mercury.  Please DO NOT take fish oil supplements from a typical grocery store!

Buying supplements and buying into fad diets that don’t last fuels wasteful consumption.  Wasteful in every way.  I’ve been tossing supplements and weird flour alternatives (currently I am gluten free) that just aren’t very pleasant.  I spent a lot of time researching and trying to utilize these (often expensive) ingredients.  At the end of the day, they just aren’t very good.  After consuming that type of product, I feel like I need a candy bar to reward myself!!!  In no way are these items adding value to my life.  Tossing them feels amazing.  I don’t need a chiropractor to tell me how to eat.  I only need my own intuition.  I don’t need the stress of finding and learning how to use obscure ingredients.  I don’t need the feeling of guilt when I grab junk food instead of trying to force down unpleasant foods.

I recently discovered the blog Break the Twitch, about intentional lifestyles / minimalism.  The author had this to say about buying into products to improve health:

We all know how to be healthy. Go outside, walk, stretch, or move in some way every day. Eat fruits and vegetables, and avoid high-sugar foods.  Remember that once you spend money for a product, the advertiser’s commitment to you is done. They’ve done the work to convince you to buy the thing, but the challenge is still yours to put that thing to work. Many times, you’ll find that you didn’t actually need the thing at all. You just need yourself.

I definitely ❤ this author!  Going forward, I’m going to cultivate a new mindset, and adaptation of Michael Pollan’s quote,

Eat whole, simple foods.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

About my diagnosis: I have never experienced “mania” in the absence of an anti-depressant on it’s own.  I now believe I am simply highly sensitive to medications and basically whatever I put on / in my body.  Feeling “high,” not sleeping, etc. are not uncommon side effects of antidepressants among any group of individuals.  The most significant challenges I seem to face are : sensory issues, depression and anxiety.

Posted by: bipolarmystic | October 4, 2016

Embracing Minimalism

A few weeks ago I became very fed up with the chaos in my home.  Although I’ve always been attracted to minimalism and even fancied being a minimalist parent, we ended up with loads and loads of unneeded items.  I started reading books and blogs about minimalism and was astounded by the fact that some folks own only one plate, bowl, silverwear setting per person.  And then I was astounded that we thought it was a great idea to buy more so that we would always have a clean utensil.  That only resulted in piles of dishes by the sink.  I’m exceedingly happy to report that we are now managing just fine with one setting each.

Bags and boxes of donations later, the material possessions in the house are much more managable.  Although, since I only started a few weeks ago, there is still a long way to go.  But clearing out all that rubbish has sometimes been really difficult, painful even.  A lot of assumptions have to be questioned.  For example, I found myself agonizing over my newly minimal wardrobe of yoga pants, a pair of black leggings, tees, and nothing at all I felt was suitable for pictures with my daughter.  The reason I was feeling so bad?  I was thinking about eventually posting the pictures on Facebook and wanted to make sure I looked as good as possible.  Because other people might have an opinion about it…  It’s like, I can’t even look nice for myself.  Totally.  Bizarre.

Then contemplating what to do with all my spiritual items that I no longer use.  Re-living the wonderful moments from the past, but knowing I need to go in another direction.  Getting rid of items I made/use for costumes – which has been a creative outlet for me.  It’s very difficult.  Some of these “things” really became part of my identity.  They also helped distract me from my lonliness.

As for that…I’m torn about it.  I just found it very difficult to keep up with the few friendships I was cultivating after my 20 month old was born.  And then I quit my job in January, so I no longer have the social interaction element from work.  I feel like since my daughter was born, and probably even before that, I have been quite confused about what I want (besides having another baby, which was planned).

Before I got on the minimalism kick, I was reading about autism spectrum disorders in women.  If I were to label myself now, I would probably say that I have some serious sensory issues or I self identify as “mildly” autistic.  The qualifier must go in quotes because I feel that in many ways I function much like “neurotypical” folks.  But in some ways I really, really don’t.  Many folks with ASD also object to the “mild” qualifier for the same reason.  One individual may do very well in the self-care area, while struggling terribly in communication / relationships.  It has been EXTREMELY interesting to view my past through the lens of ASD in females, but that is another post for another time.

This posting mirrors the confusion in my soul, from one topic to the next, only a loosely knit narrative of my life.  I am really hoping that as I continue to adopt a minimalist mindset and lifestyle, I can achieve more clarity.  I guess I should define what minimalism means to me / what I’m hoping to achieve.  Hmmm..

To me, minimalism means living a simple life, with few possessions.  Those possessions I do have should be very useful, durable, and if possible beautiful.  Instead of spending my time & energy cleaning and taking care of crap, I want to spend it doing things I really love, with a few good people now and again.  I want to feel calmer and more focused.  I need space in my life to work through my emotional distress and figure out what I really want.

One thing I do know I love is writing, and I do enjoy writing here on the blog.  Expect the narrative to be ever-changing, though, dear reader.  For the only constant in life is change…



Posted by: bipolarmystic | August 15, 2015

Gut and Psychology Syndrome

In April I decided to go to a Chiropractor.  I was having digestive problems and itchy skin and just generally felt like crap (which is why I haven’t posted in awhile).  Ok it’s part of the reason: the other part being that I feel “too negative” and “inauthentic.”  Anyway, my Chiropractor seems to believe that nearly every aliment is caused by “leaky gut syndrome.”  According to proponents of the “leaky gut syndrome,” a confluence of factors (pollution, poor quality food, etc.) breaks down the lining of the intestine, leaving it permeable.  Food particles then pass through the intestinal lining and the immune system fires up, creating inflammation, sensitivities and/or allergies.  So, in some folks the inflammation might develop into a food allergy, an immune condition or symptoms of “mental illness.”

There are several popular books on the topic.  One of the “classics” is Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride.  Based on her work, the “GAP” diet or protocol was developed.  Rather than following the very strict GAP protocol, Dr. O used muscle testing to determine my food and chemical sensitivities.  It works like this: Dr. O places a sample of the food near my body and presses down on my arm.  If I am sensitive, I will be unable to hold my arm in place.  By moving the sample around the body, it is also possible to tell what organs are sensitive to a substance.

So I now have a list of food sensitivities and a rotation whole-foods diet to follow.  Many of the foods I tested sensitive to I already strongly suspected as problematic, such as cow-based dairy and grains.  So…I eat a lot of vegetables, different types of fats (coconut, red palm, olive oil, avocado oil), fruit (limited), nuts and seeds in moderation (super expensive), meat, eggs and goat dairy.  I would like to say I feel a lot better.  I was certainly hoping my diet might be the missing puzzle piece.  Unfortunately it hasn’t happened that way, even though I really committed myself.  It has been extremely stressful transition, especially since I was a vegetarian.  I am very fortunate to have access to healthy food, but it hasn’t been easy.  Plenty of days I’ve just gone hungry because I wasn’t prepared or too tired to deal with cooking.  Or I ate peanut butter.  Yum.

My digestive issues have actually gotten worse…and until the last few weeks it felt like the protocol was consuming me.  It’s starting to get easier now, but I have a lot of doubt about the validity and usefulness of what I am doing.  I can say for me kicking sugar and grains has made me much more patient and less anxious.  As for the rest…I’m just not sure.

I feel like this experiment has been like a black hole in my life, sucking up whatever energy I have left after family and work obligations.  And that really, really frustrates me.  I am so tired of living life at 65-75%  I want to feel good.  I want to be off all the meds.  Meanwhile, other important goals and priorities have been put aside.  I feel very, very lonely because I have almost no social life and my husband is working most of the time.  I feel like a fraud because many of the things I write about on this blog I can’t seem to put into practice in my own life.  No, I can’t take the fucking flower (Amanda Palmer post)!!!!

BUT…what keeps me coming back are the wonderful comments you folks leave.  It seems like some of what I write is helpful or at least thought provoking.  So…I’m going to keep coming back.

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. 

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