Gratitude

One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.

Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.

Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.

It really is a miracle just to be alive.

If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?

Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.

Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.

Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.

Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.

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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.

How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

My most popular posts are ones relating to dating and bipolar disorder. I’m glad there are so many people interested in this topic. I’m also a bit puzzled by it.

Are there rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder? Yes, and they are the same ones for dating a person without any diagnosis of mental illness.

Here’s my list of rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Think of the needs of the person you’re dating before your own in so much as you can without harming yourself.
  3. Laugh when the other person is happy, and comfort them when they are sad.
  4. Communicate clearly your needs and listen carefully to what the other person needs, too.
  5. Get to know a little about bipolar disorder by researching it on the Internet, through books, or by asking healthcare professionals.

Again, I don’t think this list is exclusive to dating a person who has bipolar disorder. In my opinion, it pertains to any relationship. A person with bipolar disorder wants what any other person does from a romantic relationship. We want intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, love.

Having stated what I consider obvious, I’ll give some thought to what many see as the difficulties of dating a person with bipolar disorder.

I have read several online forums in which some people complain that the person they are dating who has bipolar disorder is moody. I read recently one description of a bipolar person running hot and cold. In other words, the person with the disorder seemed quite close and caring and affectionate one day. The next, they were distant and curt and even mean. My thoughts on this situation are few. Please, don’t ever ask the person with bipolar disorder whether or not they are taking their medicine as prescribed nor if their symptoms are flaring up. What you might try doing instead is explaining to the bipolar sufferer how you feel when they behave this way. Talk about your feelings and not about their disease. Try to keep any discussion centered on your feelings about observed behavior.

In fact, I would suggest that you not talk about their disease at all, unless they want to. I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t define me. I am many things, and having bipolar is only one piece. When you are together with the person you are dating, find other things to talk about, like art or music or movies or really anything other than the disease. Don’t talk about their medication regimen or other aspects of their treatment, unless they want to.

Plan activities they like, too. Ordinary things can become extraordinary. Baking cookies together can be quite flirtatious. Romance in the kitchen is a lot of fun really. A person with bipolar disorder needs to eat and so do you. Cook a meal together.

If you want to be extravagant, cook the meal for your date. Don’t let them assist you. Make him feel like a king or her like a queen. Tell him/her to sit and relax. I really enjoy having friends over and cooking something with love to give them.

If you talk by phone often or send text messages regularly and that suddenly stops, don’t assume the worst. Your date may simply be having a low period. Your date may not be good at expressing what is happening, and they may not desire to. Don’t take it personally. As with other things I’ve written here, ask what you can do to help them feel better. Offer hugs, asking nothing in return. Don’t assume it’s the disease. There are myriad reasons for a person with bipolar disorder to feel low. We are just as prone to sadness as anyone in the general population. A low point does not automatically lead to serious depression, which calls for a doctor’s intervention.

I can’t help but reiterate a person with bipolar disorder that is under treatment wants what every person does. We aren’t different.

What does one do when the disease really appears to be altering your date’s behavior? There may be times in which you find them behaving unreasonably or even in a bizarre fashion. All I can do is relate my experience and personal knowledge. I am not a doctor. However, I am a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, and I have been trained in how to relate to other people with mental illness.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a person who is acting out of the ordinary:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Make sure you and your date are safe.
  3. Communicate using “I” statements. Don’t pummel your date with “you” statements and accusations.
  4. Speak about concrete examples of behavior that you are observing.
  5. Be respectful of your date and yourself.

I think it’s important to point out, however sad it may be, that the disease can affect a person negatively, and your feelings may get hurt. Only you can decide whether to continue dating an individual with the disorder. Only you can tell if that person is actively seeking help or not. Each situation is unique, and every person is special.

Mental illness carries a tremendous stigma. It is not fully understood by doctors and is less so by the general population. Having one does not mean that a person is not worth the effort required in forming a romantic relationship. All relationships need work.

If you are dating a person who tells you they have bipolar disorder, you should feel honored they shared that information. Thank the person for opening up. I dated a man for eight or nine months and told him my diagnosis only to have him abandon me, leaving my life without a trace even though I was completely stable during our time together. It scarred me.

Dating is all about enjoying yourself. Ask your date if they are enjoying their time with you. Talk often; listen more. Explore your own feelings and your date’s. Don’t assume any particular behavior is a symptom.

Finally, be genuine.

Bipolar Dating Ideas

Can it be so very hard to date when one has bipolar disorder? If the disease is untreated, then daily life is hard and not just relationships.

Is it so very hard to date a person with bipolar disorder? Again, if untreated, then everything is going to be a struggle.

Relationships are difficult for all of us regardless whether one has a mental illness or not. Conversing, listening, deciphering body language, and understanding are not easy with a veil of worry cast over one’s eyes. “Is she listening?” “Does he care about this topic?” Our internal dialogue bounces with questions and conceptions.

Add bipolar disorder to the mixture, and a cauldron seethes boiling and popping. Let me speak from experience.

I once saw a drama depicting a man meditating. Actors moved slowly behind him reciting lines of his wandering thoughts, distracting him. It raced to the forefront of my mind that I thought in an entirely different way. My thoughts never wandered in and out. They charged. They bombarded me. I could simultaneously hold a thought and understand I was conscious of the thinking, and I knew on five different levels my brain was electrified with inspiration, thinking about thinking about thinking about…sigh. It tires me now to remember.

Yet, I’m very lucky. With my prescribing nurse practitioner, we’ve found a regimen that works. With the job training and WRAP, I’ve found a written system I use to calm my racing thoughts. I found help, and I believe it’s out there for all of us.

Getting help was the first step for me. I’m stable, and with that knowledge, I can reach out to friends and associates, searching for a mate. That search is exciting. The Internet is open with a plethora of sites waiting for us. Some cost. Some are free. Our local areas have many places we can volunteer our time, opening the door to meeting many new people.

What to do then becomes the question. How do we spend time getting to know someone? How much of ourselves do we reveal and when? Those questions plague people with bipolar disorder. I started slowly with my current beau. So far so good, but so far is so far.

We’ve met for coffee. We’ve lunched together. We’ve sat by the water and strolled through the park. We haven’t seen a movie together. We haven’t done many things together. He’s busy and far away. I’ve been busy with job training. Life happens. We’ll see where things go.

I enjoy imagining free or low-cost things for us.

  • Walks along the seashore.
  • Casual days in the park.
  • Picnicking.
  • Driving on country roads.
  • Taking in scenic spots.
  • Visiting free museums.
  • Meeting at the coffee shop.
  • Sightseeing like tourists.
  • Roaming a bookstore.
  • Leisurely meandering through the local library.
  • Reading aloud together.
  • Sitting in the sun.

Really, the list is endless. There are so many joys of life to be gained by exploring the ordinary world around each of us. The artist Andy Warhol once said, “Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again.” Finding beauty in the ordinary is what I strive for. Making a date of the usual turns any day into magic.

Looking for magic in a relationship turns any couple into a happy one.

Let’s make magic happen. Let’s be open to the warm touch of another. Let’s recover. Let’s do it together.

Winning the Liebster Award

Friends, I have been nominated for the Liebster Award, which is given from one blog to another. I would like to thank Rose over at RosieSmrtiePants for the honor. I am tickled pink.

It seems the only rule is that the recipient’s blog must have fewer than 200 followers, a number I certainly fall beneath. Some of the award’s origins can be read about here.

I either accept or reject the award. Who am I to turn down something so prestigious? I accept, and I do it with a smile.

There are a few things acceptance requires. First, I must disclose eleven things about myself. Please, be aware I keep this blog very anonymous for various reasons, so I won’t be revealing any skeletons from my closet today. In any event, here is my list:

  1. It rains buckets where I live.
  2. I live near the sea.
  3. I feel connected to the literal ground I call home.
  4. I classify my house as a cottage.
  5. Fragrant flowers grow near my cottage.
  6. My neighbor grows the most succulent fruit and vegetables next door, and he shares thankfully.
  7. I am spiritual but not at all religious.
  8. I read tarot cards for myself and others.
  9. I can’t watch television.
  10. My beau is awful about returning calls.
  11. I sometimes wish I had the fortitude to be a vegetarian.

I doubt that list lets any cats out of any bags. However, there is more. I have to answer eleven questions Rose posed.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and instantaneously change one thing, what would it be? That my friend would be alive.
  2. Coffee or tea? Tea of all varieties. I am a connoisseur of enjoying tea from selection of the leaves to selection of the pot to adding honey or sugar.
  3. Worst bad habit? I am learning that there is nothing bad about me.
  4. Your best quality? My intelligence.
  5. How many hours do you get and how many hours of sleep do you need each night? I get and need nine hours of sleep.
  6. Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
  7. Book you’re reading right now? Blue Coyote by Christopher Moore – very funny and recommendable.
  8. What do you think about the Kindle or Nook? I have a Kindle and like it very much.
  9. Resolutions at New Year’s? No, I don’t think I need the burden.
  10. What is in your garden? Grass and fragrant shrubs.
  11. Do you think your current treatment regimen is working? Yes, at long last.

Answering those was not as simple as I’d first thought. Thank you, Rose. You gave me plenty to pause and think about.

As part of receiving the award, I get to nominate eleven other bloggers. This will be tricky given that I follow few that fit the requirement of having fewer than 200 followers, but I’ll see what I can come up with.

Nectar Madness

Bi[polar] Curious

Walk the Self-Talk

Jet Black Living

Making Space

I realize that is only five and not eleven, but we’ll have to accept these as what I can come up with. It was interesting that two bloggers I follow have already received the Liebster Award.

To those I’ve nominated, should you accept the award, please, tell us eleven things about you and answer the following questions:

  1. What makes you stop in your tracks?
  2. When was the last time something took your breath away?
  3. Do you wear shoes in the house?
  4. Where are your feet right now?
  5. Where do you wish your feet were right now?
  6. Why do you wish to be there?
  7. Plane, train, or automobile?
  8. When was the last time you yelled “whee!”?
  9. Riding a roller coaster or a day at the seashore?
  10. Do you have time to smell the roses?
  11. What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

After answering, ask eleven more questions of eleven eligible bloggers.

Once more, thank you, Rose, for the award. It’s an honor and a pleasure to participate.

The Good News

Followers of this blog will know that I have spent some time in mourning recently for a former lover who took his own life. I can report that I’m well on the way to healing. The initial shock was tremendous, but as with all things, time heals. There will be a memorial gathering for him in a week, and I will attend. I doubt I’ll share anything, but I will be there supporting my other friends.

On the job front, I can happily and loudly report that I passed my written and oral exams, and I am now a Certified Peer Specialist Intern in mental health. I can also shout out that I will start my internship at a local mental health clinic in early June.

I am going to a family reunion at the end of May, and I’m taking the opportunity by stretching my stay to have a nice long visit with my parents and family. When I get back from that trip, I’ll walk straight into my internship.

Things are really moving along quickly.

Things are not moving quickly in my romantic life. My beau lives two hours away, and I haven’t seen him since January. I was traveling too much for job training, and his job schedule keeps him very busy. We’ve spoken on the phone a number of times, and we’re still interested in each other. However, being apart does not make this easy. There’s no cuddling, and that makes me sad. At the same time, it makes for wonderful dreams of reuniting.

Through the statistics of this blog, I can view how people find me. One of the highest ranking terms is bipolar dating. To those searching for love and acceptance as a person with bipolar disorder or with a person who has it, I can safely assure you that it is possible to find a partner.

There is no magic pill to swallow that will make your perfect match appear, but then that’s true for everyone and not simply those with mental illness. While having a disability can add a layer of difficulty to the mixture, it’s not necessarily the defining factor. No person is solely defined by any one particular point, and we with mental illness are not either.

I truly believe in the tried and true formula of finding a mate the old-fashioned way. There are people in clubs who have similar interests and are also looking for companionship. Volunteering is a great way to meet others. The secret – and it’s no secret – is finding a way to get outside one’s head and open up to the possibilities  that abound all around us.

Opening up is easier said than done for some of us. I had my own long, dark period. It lasted for years, and every aspect of life was a chore or nearly impossible. I have been in that deep despair when simple acts of self-care like brushing my teeth were close to impossible. I clawed my way out with the help of loving caregivers, medication, and therapy. I did not do it alone.

All the time, I wondered where the right man for me was. It’s just a thought, but now I believe my focus should have been on being the right man for someone else.

When I take the focus off me, I win.

It is paradoxical, but it starts with loving me and spreading that. I give love more freely when I love me. I give more of me when I take care of my simple daily needs.

I no longer believe in countering negative self-talk with positive affirmations that I find unconvincing. I have no evidence from my past that looking at my reflection in the mirror and reciting clichés ever made me feel better. What worked? A lot of time and effort put into finding the right combination of medicine, meditation, exercise, and therapy from many loving caregivers.

This thought that I start from a place where I love me first is new. I was taught long ago that I had to ignore my inner voice and my feelings and only concentrate on the needs of others. I have no evidence that action ever helped me.

Today, I have abundant evidence that loving me allows me to then reach out and give. I struggled with guilt and shame for decades. Today, I live openly and honestly.

Today, I live in truth.

My Hundredth Post

The music is something I like and celebrates the milestone of 100 entries to this blog.

I have been sick. Again. During my week off training. Again. The last week-long break I had, I was sick with a terrible head cold. Either the same thing returned, or I had something different. I’m feeling much better today, and I’m getting excited about going to my final week of training. I’ll be there from Monday to Friday next week.

The third week of training was trying, to say the least. The subject matter was great, but the delivery left something to be desired. Unfortunately, the style of the training changed. Where it had been trainee centered, it became a lecture. For the first two days, in fact, we sat and listened. It was not pleasant. By day three, we were given the chance to do some serious role playing, and that was enormously helpful.

Week four promises to return to the trainee centered nature of a collaborative environment. We’ll be studying more about WRAP and specifically about facilitating groups of individuals designing their own plans. When we finish this week, we will be trained to work with individuals with mental illness on their recovery journeys and with groups in WRAP and Seeking Safety. It’s already proved itself useful in my life, and I am excited about the prospect of reaching out to others and encouraging them to make strides in recovery.

As I look over these few words here, I’m astonished at the change from so much of the previous writing. I have hope today. I mentioned that word in my regular therapy session yesterday, and my psychologist perked up. She mentioned that she thought it was the first time I’d ever used it in her hearing. I couldn’t remember using it there either.

I’m still an alcoholic. I still have bipolar disorder. I still take medicine to control the mental illness. None of that has changed.

But I have changed. I’m brighter inside.

My caseworker noticed it this week, too. He said that I looked better despite the cold. The change shows outside.

I am enormously grateful for where I have been and more for where I am today and most for where I am headed. I survived a fatal disease, alcoholism. I’ve battled the giant of mental illness, and yet I’m going to a place I believe will give me fulfillment I’ve never had.

Once when meditating in my happy place, I asked what I was supposed to learn in this life, and the answer came instantly. “Learn how to help.” Finally, I’m doing just that. I’m learning. It’s helped me. Sooner than I can guess, I’ll be helping others.