A Wide-Ranging Session

One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.

Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.

I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.

He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”

I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.

My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.

I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.

His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.

This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”

I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.

“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.

I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.

Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.

We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.

It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.

Family Time and the Bipolar Mind

I am a person recovering with bipolar disorder, and I have a noisy, nosy, and loving family. I am one of the oddities. I’m gay, I have a mental illness, and I do not shy away from discussing either of those two subjects.

I like being gay. It’s who I am, and since I’ve come to accept it, I am more at home with my emotional self.

I do not like having bipolar disorder, but what am I going to do about it? Seriously. This blog is over three years old, and it details many harrowing experiences and unhealthy habits of living with the illness. It also shows good evidence for the case of recovery from mental illness. I have grown from a suicidal, frightened person to one filled with hope looking to the future and expecting a good life.

I have traveled very far from the comfort of my cottage near the blue sea to the very first family reunion my clan has ever had, other than gathering at weddings and funerals. We are here to laugh and rejuvenate old bonds.

Sitting at the small airport waiting to board my first of several flights, fear gripped me. My mind was clouded, and my thoughts were not calm. I used deep breathing and some mild meditation to regain serenity. I managed to sleep on the plane, giving me a respite. Happily, the trip was without incident.

My son, my mother, and one of my sisters met me on arrival at my destination airport, and joy filled me. Really, gratitude is all I can think of for these people I love and have loved for so many years.

At home, attitudes changed a bit, and some of the party began to behave in ways that demonstrated fine layers of underlying animosity and disappointment. I did not change my demeanor of love and acceptance. I have learned much over my years of recovery and these months of recent study:

  • I cannot change others.
  • I can accept love.
  • I can reject what causes me fear.
  • From a place of healthy love for me, I can offer love.
  • I cannot force others to accept my love.
  • Hope is the greatest gift I can share.

Notions like these listed and more give me the fortitude necessary to meet family. My group like countless others is a curious bunch. They have questions, and they are not shy. They laugh and hug and shake hands.

They question.

Armed with self-knowledge and self-acceptance, I meet them and give freely. I hold back nothing. I laugh at the jokes and make some of my own. Politics rears its head, and I mean the kind on the family level. I slipped into the old familiar ways of taking sides, but I quickly realized my error and gave apologies and walked away.

Avoidance or walking away may appear cowardly to some, but it is actually a healthy coping mechanism for my bipolar mind. I can focus or think or practice a quick meditation to gain a sense of steadfastness, and I can reenter the fray.

Family gatherings are a minefield for the bipolar mind. People with mental illness often lack the ordinary coping mechanisms others use effortlessly. We must learn:

  • Recognizing emotions that are healthy and ones that are overreacting.
  • Understanding how our bodies show us our emotions.
  • Releasing emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Simply enjoying ourselves.
  • Creating boundaries that accept love and reject fear.

I am enjoying myself at my family reunion. I have not been prefect. I have engaged in some discussions that were wrong. To put in bluntly, I’ve gossiped. The growth I have experienced, though, allows me to know it and move past it. I now can right any wrongs and return to the task at hand: having fun.

I Still Can’t Watch Television

Nothing has changed since I first reported my disability in regards to watching television and followed up later. I still can’t watch.

My daughters brought a DVD of a popular movie to watch last weekend. I helped them put it in the player and switch it on. I immediately had to leave. The machine repels me. It signals my brain and switches off my ability to sit comfortably. I hid in my room and paced the floor simply knowing it was playing. I emerged a couple of times to stand and watch briefly, but I always retreated to the safety of my room.

Over the past couple of years, I have talked to numerous other people with bipolar disorder, and they often report the same experience. It’s truly mystifying.

I noticed several years ago this discomfort was not strictly limited to the television. I also intensely dislike videos on the Internet and movies at the theater. My dearest friend sends me links to humorous videos, and I lie. I tell her I watched them, but I don’t. I will often click the link to see the title, but I will quickly turn it off.

I quite simply can’t sit through visual stimulation from a video source.

A good friend once told me I was missing nothing, but this discomfort is something more. It is a true disability. When the television is on in the house, I must pace. My mind races, and I can’t be calm.

I want to write that it’s bizarre, but I don’t want to demean me in any way. This disability hampers my enjoyment of life.

It’s not an inability to concentrate. I can write entries on this blog, and that exercise requires time and effort.

It has nothing to do with the flickering television tube since my unit is a new high-definition model. The computer screen, too, is HD. There is something about receiving stimulation from video that is inherently disconcerting.

Movies are a chore, and I turn down dates with friends to attend. If there is a particular one I really want to see, I often fortify my mind by taking an extremely low dose of a sedative beforehand.

I have been this way for a very long time. It’s been decades since I was able to enjoy a television show. I would like it to change. From what I can surmise, watching television is relaxing and makes people laugh. I’m excluded from that pleasure.

Emotional Sponge

A dear friend called me this morning quite angry about a situation. I was taken aback by her words. She was not angry at me but at a person we both know, and she was fuming.

I first tried to understand her anger, and I’m still unclear about the origins of her outburst today. What was immediately clear to me was my own anxiety. Her words caused my stomach to churn and my mind to fog.

Next, I stated my perception of the events in order to diffuse her temper and offered solutions we could both pursue to work through the matter at hand. It had the desired effect; she calmed down. We agreed on a course of action, and we are starting it today.

Is the problem solved? Yes.

Am I feeling better? No.

My stomach is just beginning to settle two hours after the phone call. My friend’s anger infiltrated me and has not dissipated. Frankly, I’m a mess. I’m not the type to cry or act out in other ways when I’m emotionally upset. I bottle it up inside. It’s unhealthy, but I’m much better at displaying my emotions today than I was ten years ago.

I also have an unhealthy habit of incorporating the emotions of people around me. Others’ little anxieties can become monumental to me. It’s awful really, and I don’t know how to stop.

I recognize where my responsibilities are and what I can control. However, that realization does not negate this emotional turmoil seeping into my pores and mind. I am using calming techniques I learned at the job training I recently completed. I’m breathing slowly and deeply. I’ve distracted my mind by following up on the ideas my angry friend and I decided on. I’m writing here. I am carrying on with my day.

Still, I feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach. This incident will be something to discuss with my therapist.

Shout It from the Mountaintops!

I sit right now in front of a blank screen on my computer, and my fingers refuse to move. My brain sputters. I have false starts. Ideas flit to the surface and recede. Through it all rides exuberance. I giggle.

Stunning.

Exhilarating.

Rapturous.

In about a week’s time, this blog will be three years old. However, that’s not the cause for celebration. While it’s a worthy milestone, I’m excited for another reason.

You see, I’m drawing a blank.

I’m stumped.

There’s nothing there!

That’s right. Nothing!

Sh! You can’t hear it? If you stop up your ears and shut your eyes, what do you hear? When you have a brain without mental illness, you hear nothing or your heart beating or maybe loud noises from passing traffic in the street outside your window gets through your fingers in your ears. I think you understand what I mean. There are everyday sounds, natural ones.

To people with mental illness, a quiet mind is often unattainable. Indeed, a book that is a pillar in the field of mental illness is called An Unquiet Mind by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. I highly recommend it.

Quiet.

That’s what I’m up against today, and it’s glorious!

In the first days of this blog, I wrote my “Thoughts in Hell“. I had horrific thought patterns, which I had faced for many years, too many years. In more recent years, I’ve battled other burdensome thoughts. I’ve experienced visual and aural hallucinations, which are controlled by medication.

Mostly, I’ve dealt with negative self-talk. This voice was not small. It was big and ever present. When I wasn’t wholly engaged in an activity, the voice would pipe in and say, “You’re worthless.” Any spare moment was opportunity for it to deride me with hateful sayings like “ugly, fat, and bald.”

Today, it’s gone. Vanished. I’m clearheaded.

What’s most surprising to me is how quickly it seems to have left. It was not present while I was at the job training, because I was too busy. Normally, it would rear its ugly head and shout something at me even in those times when I was in my room alone or ambling the hallways, but this time it was quiet.

I’ve been home more than a week, and it’s roared at me a couple of times. Really, it’s been maybe three times, and each of those times, I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Really?! Nah! I’m okay. I’m good and getting even better.”

Why? Why did this change happen so suddenly? I honestly have to give the credit to our training. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan or WRAP by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland has turned my thinking on its head. I came home from the job training and began putting my Wellness Toolbox together. I’ve got a 3-ring binder with some lists and important information. There’s a list of my attributes when I’m well that I can look at when I’m not well. I put in pictures of my children and a favorite picture of me acting in a play. I’ve got a pen to remind me that I like to write and that I’m good at it. There’s a small stuffed animal that I can hold and cuddle when I’m feeling blue. In the next week, I’ll be gathering the last of the items for my Wellness Toolbox. I’m going to put in a funny book since I love to read, a deck of cards, and some candy wrappers because I like chocolate. On the front of my 3-ring binder, I put a print of a big rainbow flag, the international symbol of gay pride. I’m out and proud to be gay.

Friends, my head is clear! Shout it from the mountaintops!

I Braved the Movie Theater

I have written in this blog about not being able to watch television for unknown reasons. It makes my brain twitch uncomfortably. I have avoided movies for the same reason. My brain throws a switch that makes my skull itchy inside. (You can find the blog entries by typing “I can’t watch TV” in the little search window on the right.) The crowds in movie theaters are also a deterrent.

I have seen three movies in the last month. It’s been amazing. I had to practice some deep breathing at points during each one, but I made it through. Last night was the most difficult. I saw Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about a bipolar man and his budding relationship with a troubled woman.

The movie begins with words on the screen announcing the upcoming scene as taking place in a psychiatric hospital. I tensed instantly. A group therapy circle unfolded on the screen with someone speaking gibberish about his hair. Another patient sat in his chair but had physical tics. The lead actor was composed but spouting loudly about finding good things in bad circumstances.

The movie twists and turns through the life of the lead actor. He moves back to his parents’ house, and immediately begins to obsess about his estranged wife. He meets an interesting, troubled woman, and they begin seeing each other. Their relationship revolves around his learning to dance. There are scenes finding the man up all night pouring through books only to toss them through a closed window into the street. He wakes his parents at odd hours to rant about wild things. He jogs a lot. The pair spark off each other, though their relationship remains platonic since the man insists he’s still married.

Some points of the movie were particularly wrenching for me to watch. When the lead actor maniacally reads, I was reminded of myself engrossed in books all day long. A crowd encircles the man at one point, and I found my heart pounding in real fear. I have been in the middle of crowded department stores and had to leave to breathe. He went on a painful, angry hunt for his wedding video, and I understood the drive, the single-minded mania. I have been in the situation where I had to accomplish a minor task at all costs and was thwarted.

There was quite a bit of violence in the movie. I’m very lucky that I’m not given to violent outbursts. I withdraw inwardly and use a great deal of negative self-talk.

The movie talked a lot about medication, and the lead character refused to take any. Some of his more egregious explosions prompted him to take medication, but the subject was treated poorly. Regular readers here know I am a strong advocate for taking medication to treat bipolar illness. I only speak for myself, but there’s no amount of prayer or meditation, no distance of running or walking, nor any length of talk-therapy or doctor visits that can control the hallucinations, the rapid thinking, or the burning brain. I need medicine. It’s plain and simple.

The movie ended happily. The boy got the girl. There was no hint of disability. All was right with the world, and I call, “Bullshit.” I’ve been manic about love in the past. If a relationship would fix me, I would be on every dating site around. People can’t fix me. If a relationship could fix the lead character in the movie, then why couldn’t his loving parents help?

Bipolar illness is tricky. I appreciate this cinematic portrayal. I intend to get the book and see if it may be different. I wish my happy ending would be so simple. I’d pay $10 for that.

A Forgotten Prayer

I have a friend who used to live near me but moved in the last few months. We kept in close contact when he lived here, and we still send emails often. He’s quite depressed. I want to share with you a small portion of the last message I sent him:

When I was first diagnosed bipolar, I was furious with god. I was livid. I had to face the fact that what I viewed as my greatest asset (my intelligent brain) had become my darkest enemy. Through that time, I didn’t stop my daily prayers. In fact, they went something like this:

Dear god, please help me to think that it might be possible that I could begin to wonder if it would be imaginable that I might want to have your will done in my life.

It was a very long phrase asking god for help. Today, my prayers are to the one or just to the universe. I share this long phrase with you, because I think you might be able to begin to wish that you could possibly in some way apply it to your own situation.

I share it because it reminded me vividly of that prayer I used. It was a long phrase I used when I first discovered there was a name for my mental illness. That phrase got shorter over a period of about three months, until finally it was simply “may god’s will be done in my life.”

It’s been a long time since I thought of that prayer. It makes me feel so good to know I’ve come so far that I don’t need that kind of rambling phrase lifted up to god. Today, I simply talk to the universe. I’m open. I feel full today.