Rocking and Rolling

I’m going through what can best be described as rocking and rolling. No, I’m not starting a band. I’m up and down.

Sometimes I feel really weirdly optimistic. I suppose “weird” is a loaded word. There’s a thought behind it that I somehow shouldn’t be optimistic. When I look at my life, however, I don’t see any reason that pessimism is called for. I’m doing OK.

I’m doing OK today. Yesterday I was struggling. That’s the down side of being up and down.

There is so much stress at work. There are multiple things all happening at once. On paper, it doesn’t look like a lot, but in my head, it occupies a large amount of space.

I had a session with my psychologist yesterday, and he reminded me that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I have successfully managed to get to a very good place in my recovery from bipolar disorder by handling one difficulty after another with rest in between. That’s the key. I am a success. When I feel overwhelmed at work, I have to remind myself that I only have to do one thing at a time, and furthermore, I have a very good track record of accomplishments when I only do one thing at a time.

I also have to rest in between. Meditation helps a lot in these situations, because it gives me a little rest right in the middle of the day.

I realized two days ago that I was not resting. In fact, I’ve been struggling. I notice this most easily when I look at self-care. I am normally a tidy person. I was neglecting my house and myself. My kitchen got to be a mess, and I was struggling with basic hygiene like brushing my teeth.

What scared me when I realized I was struggling was that I had been denying the struggle. I was telling myself I was fine. I was telling everyone around me I was fine. I wasn’t.

Just giving voice to the realization helped enormously. It has proven true over and over that when I say a fear out loud, it loses its power. Every time. All I have to do is say it to another person, and the effect is immediate. I feel better.

Here’s what I’m remembering today: one thing at a time and the best predictor of the future is the past. In the past, when I concentrated on one thing at a time, I was successful. If I keep doing just one thing at a time, I can be successful now.

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Twenty Years

Today is a special day for me. I am celebrating twenty years of sobriety. I’m full of emotions. My stomach can’t decide if it’s excited or anxious.

I remember the days before sobriety. To say I was miserable is an understatement.

I remember those early days. I was so confused and in such a fog.

I remember those early years. My life was such a mess. A really awful mess.

If you’re newly sober or thinking about getting sober, I can tell you it’s worth it. I have peace today. My head is calm. I live with serenity. My life is not chaotic. It took time, but I have built a life that is good.

I don’t know how to put into words how good it is to simply say I have peace. Those few words carry so much weight. That’s really all I can say right now.

Getting Help

I left work early yesterday for two reasons. The first reason was that I called my psychologist and got an appointment that day to go talk to him about something troubling me. The second reason I left work early was because that thing troubling me grew too large in my head to effectively cope.

There are a lot of changes going on at my workplace, and I am using every tool in my toolbox to cope. The feelings I’m getting from the changes are helplessness and fear. The anxiety they give rise to is sometimes overwhelming. I took some days off work not too long ago due to all this change. It helped.

Yesterday, I had that anxiety again. I was faced with a new reality, and my insides rebelled. I’m really lucky. I work where we have adequate sick time, and I was able to use it.

At my therapy session, I gave vent to my anger at the situation, and I was able to speak directly to my psychologist and tell him emphatically that I don’t think he takes my level of anxiety seriously enough. He heard me. I was able to advocate for myself really well, and it felt good. The result was that I left feeling much better than when I arrived. I felt heard.

At home, I did a quick meditation, and that felt really good, too. Meditation is such an important tool for me. I just sit and breathe and imagine anxiety being pulled out of me. The visualization really helps me feel relief. The sitting and breathing is such a good way to give myself a calm center.

I slept well last night and woke up feeling good this morning. I took extra time in meditation this morning just to breathe. When I meditate, my mind wanders. I don’t fight it. I let it wander, and when I notice it, I calmly bring it back to the breath. I do this over and over. A wandering mind is not failure. Wandering is what the mind it supposed to do. That’s what it’s built for. I just recognize the wandering and calmly bring my attention back to my breathing.

I’m not trying to reach enlightenment. I’m just using a tool to help my overwrought brain gain some peace. It works. I recommend it.

Meditation isn’t hard. Sit comfortably. Relax, and breathe. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breathing. Do this as many times as you want. That’s it. Just keep trying.

Healing

Healing takes time. Grief comes in waves. Work is not easy right now.

I’m sad about the break up, but I’m not in pain like I was the first time. This time was completely my decision, and it was amicable.

I went out with a man Friday night whom I’m interested in. I hesitate to call it a date, but we had a good time. And we’ve made plans to see each other again.

Yesterday, I was sad. I ran an errand in the morning, and then I stayed home all day. I tried listening to classical music, but the day just called for sad music, so I put that on. I lay on my bed and chatted with my best friend by text. I dozed for a while.

Then my best friend suggested I switch the music to some easy guitar, which I did. It was a good suggestion. My mood lightened.

I opened Tinder, which I hadn’t opened in many long months. There was a profile still on some page there that had evidently met the requirements to be some kind of match. It had sat there for months. I messaged him recognizing his picture from some of the gay dating apps.

I don’t know how Tinder works really well, so I went to the dating app and messaged him there. Some hours later in the afternoon, he replied. We had a good chat, and I’m sure we’ll chat again. He’s also very interested in meditation, so that’s a strong connection.

The other thing I did all day was read a new book of poetry from Walt Whitman: Live Oak, With Moss. It had new illustrations and was really very lovely. The cluster of poems as Whitman called them was about sexual love between men. It was very moving. Whitman never published this cluster as a separate group. He rearranged them and used them as part of the Catullus poems in Leaves of Grass. The illustrations, the poetry, and the included essay all made me feel very good.

I’ve been to therapy a few times since the break up, and I’m going again today.

I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure how far away the light is, but it’s there.

Pressure From Myself

As my last post mentioned, there are lots of changes at work, and it’s causing me a mood episode. I have been amped up for lack of a better term. I have also had greatly heightened emotional responses to minor events. I mean really extreme responses. Finally, I’ve had depressive thoughts and bouts of crying.

I took time off work for five days, and I’m only returning to work part-time for this week. At work, I’m feeling enormous self-generated pressure to be well now. I hear an internal voice to just get over it and work.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is internalized stigma. Society often tells people with mental illness that we should simply not be ill and that we should just get over it and get on with life. That is stigma, and we who live with mental illness internalize it and repeat it to ourselves. I am no different. I have it, too.

The voice inside my head that states my disease isn’t real and shouldn’t cause me to suffer is internalized stigma.

I am going to use meditation to make that unwanted voice quiet. It works for me in so many ways. I’m sure this will work too. I’m also going to take a nap this afternoon, and then I’ll go for a walk.

My therapist reminds me that this is like growing a garden. We start with seeds and give them a little water and keep the weeds away. It’s good to let the garden grow at its own pace. I’m going to let myself grow at my own pace for just a bit.

Changes

A few posts ago, I mentioned there are lots of changes going on where I work. My boss retired, and there are now 3 people covering his duties. In addition, there is a reorganization of the hierarchical structure where I work, so I am getting a new boss within the structure. This only sounds like two things, but they’re huge.

With a change in where I fit in the bureaucratic structure comes a change of location. It won’t be immediate, but at some point this year, my work station will change. I’ll be driving to work instead of taking the bus.

Big changes.

All of this is causing me stress. The first evidence of the stress is reduced sleep time. I’m getting about thirty minutes less sleep on work nights. It’s not debilitating, but it’s noticeable.

Today, my thoughts are speedy. They’re not actually racing, but they are definitely faster than normal. I noticed in meditation this morning that it was hard to concentrate. I just walked down to the cathedral and meditated for a few short minutes, which helped a great deal. Sitting at my desk right now, I can tell my thoughts are speedy.

All this reminds me of hypomania. In the past, I often had a mood change when winter changed to spring right around this time of year. I’m more frightened of a depressive episode that may follow than I am the hypomania.

So here’s the plan: I am going to return to weekly therapy appointments for the time being. I’m not planning any change to my medication routine, but I will call my psychiatrist at the first hint it’s needed. I’m still getting good exercise and will continue that. I will add meditation times as able. I will do what I need to to get good sleep. I’m going to greatly restrict my sugar intake for a while.

It’s a plan. It helps me feel better knowing I have steps to take to get me through this time.

Smoking

I am an ex-smoker. I quit about thirteen and a half years ago, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I don’t think about it very much, but I’m thinking about it more these days, because I’m talking about it at work. In meetings with my peers, I talk about quitting, hoping to spark interest in others who smoke.

I just read a good first-person account from someone who lives with bipolar disorder about why they smoke. They have one important reason: it gives them a break. Often times that person is able to spend some time alone while they smoke, and that time alone is valuable.

I smoked as a coping mechanism, believe it or not. I thought it helped me with my feelings. Of course, I was wrong, but that’s the truth. It wasn’t a good coping skill, but it was still a skill.

I quit several times. Finally, I quit and stayed quit. Since then I’ve learned that what happened to me is very typical. It’s usual to quit and restart and quit and restart several times. The trick is to keep trying. I kept trying, and finally it worked.

If you’re thinking of quitting, give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. Try again.

I found meditation to use as a better coping mechanism. Smoking is doing something for you, but it’s probably not a good way to do whatever that is. Search for something better to use instead. Give it a shot.

Honestly, I feel so much better not smoking.