Healing Demons

I have now seen a meme twice. A meme is a viral phenomenon that spreads an idea from person to person in a given population. It’s also the slang term used to describe a trite saying usually accompanied by a picture on the internet.

This particular meme says, “We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”

I can happily report that we can heal them. We do not have to simply learn to tolerate their rude behavior as they live downstairs. It is possible to completely heal them, releasing ourselves from their power. Why can I say this? Because I healed mine.

It’s popular to talk about our baggage, the stuff we carry with us from the past that weighs us down. Baggage is something we talk about with a therapist. In the early days of going to AA, I heard a lot about baggage, and I realized that I don’t simply have baggage. I had a freight train.

Indeed I did. I had so much junk attached to myself on many different subjects: homosexuality, religion, being an American male from the South, parental expectations, etc. The list is very long.

I started therapy when I was 23. The first big item I tackled was anger. It may surprise you to learn that I actually had to teach myself how to be angry. I remember it quite well. I had to keep a small notepad in my pocket and write down every time I felt angry. It took many months before I was able to recognize my real anger. I suppressed it before. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be angry. It was an enormously unhealthy way to live.

I haven’t thought about that episode in my attempts to unpack my freight train in a very long time. My anger is healthy now. I feel it. If necessary, I act on it. I let it pass. It flows like it’s supposed to.

That is a perfect example of healing a demon, and that’s what bugs me about that meme. Saying that the best we can hope for is to merely live above them does us all a disservice. We can indeed heal them. We can completely disarm them and free ourselves from their grip.

I have healed many demons. I don’t live above anything unpleasant.

I am free!

I am very happy to be a gay man now, but I used to loathe myself. I healed the loathing. I did the necessary self-care that led to a very happy realization that I like being gay. I live completely out now. It was a difficult journey fraught with upset, but I did it. I did it!

I am free!

If you think you have pain that can only be tolerated and never healed, you are wrong. If I can heal the trauma of growing up gay in a time and place that abhorred it, you can heal, too. You can. I promise.

The question becomes how to start. Therapy worked for me. I know that it works for a great many people, because they’ve told me it works. It’s also important to do some work on our own.

Meditation is an amazing habit to form. It teaches us to find our calm center. We each have one. Most of us need help to find it. Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Sit quietly doing nothing. Don’t sit and rock. Don’t sit and drink water. Sit. Just sit. Let your mind wander, and look for the spaces between the wandering thoughts. Try to enlarge those spaces in between. Don’t judge yourself as your mind wanders. Just watch it.

Exercise is important for me, too. I powerwalk. It’s something I enjoy, and it only requires good shoes. It doesn’t take any other special equipment. Think about what you enjoy, and do it.

There are many ways we each can begin the journey of healing. What do you want to look like after you have healed? Think about it, and think about the ways you want to get to that place. Find the help you need, and use it.

You can be free, too. I promise.

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Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos

It’s no secret that there is a great deal of turmoil in the world at present. There are large protests in the US. Many countries in Europe are experiencing difficulties related to the large numbers of refugees coming in. I don’t know about yours, but my news is full of stories of upheaval and tumult.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when the headlines are shouting about mayhem. Those of us with mental illness know the importance of remaining calm and maintaining equilibrium.

Here’s my plan.

First, I remember the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a great deal in the world that I cannot change, and it is important for me to recognize where I can have an effect and where I need to release. For example, I have a vote, but I only have one vote. It is important for me to exercise my choice by voting, but I must release the outcome since my single vote will not determine any winners. I am one voice in a sea of many. I do my part and release the rest.

Second, I simply do not read all of the news. I pick and choose. I have a few topics that I am passionate about, so I read that news. I skip over the rest. As a solitary individual, there is little I can do to affect the vast majority of situations. I choose to invest my energy in only a couple of major issues. I keep myself basically informed of some of the other major issues in the news, but I simply skip over a great deal. I’m not hiding from the news. I’m editing my consumption. I act this way to maintain my sense of inner peace. I had a friend who tried to stay abreast of all the news a few months ago, and it had a disastrous affect on her mind. She was quickly overwhelmed. I protect my personal calm by limiting what I ingest from the news.

Next, I give a small amount of money to causes that I believe in. I have limited money at my disposal. I cannot give great sums to every worthy cause, so I have chosen a few that I feel the most strongly about, and I donate there. It makes me feel good that I’m helping organizations who are battling for ideas that I believe in. Helping these organizations makes me feel like I’m a part of the fight, and in actuality, I am. I am very active in theatre in my city, so I support those organizations that bring live theatre to brighten our lives. Giving them small donations helps me feel good.

Finally, I take care of myself. This is my greatest contribution to making the planet a better place for all of us. When I concentrate on being the best possible me that I can, I know that my little bit of humanity is running smoothly. Honestly, isn’t that a great gift to give the world? I like being me, and I like making me a happy member of the world. I do it by living in recovery. I have a few pillars of my recovery that I work diligently to maintain: medication, meditation, exercise, therapy, and sleep.

I am lucky in that medicine works for me, so I take my medicine as prescribed. I have friends in recovery who maintain themselves other ways than medicine.

I am also an avid meditator. I have a set routine that includes a period of meditation, and I do it every morning without fail. Meditation gives me a calm center to cling to. When I feel emotions that encroach on my calm, I know I can return to the even feelings by just doing some simple breathing techniques.

Exercise is an important part of my recovery, too. I enjoy powerwalking, so I go out for a vigorous walk 4 mornings every week. I feel exhilarated each time. It’s such a joy!

I believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been involved with it for 30 years. I have a therapist that I tell absolutely everything to. I tell him about all the little things in my life that arise, and we talk about how they make me feel. I’ve discovered a lot of people don’t really understand the nature of a therapeutic relationship. A therapist is not like a medical doctor who assesses symptoms and administers a cure. Therapists cure no one. Instead, they listen to my situations, and then they guide me through a discussion, until I settle on my own cure. In essence, a therapist is a guide while I cure myself.

Finally, sleep is an amazing balm for me. I am adamant that I get adequate and high quality sleep every night. It resets all my inner world, and I can start each day fresh.

These things work for me. I hope you can find the pillars of your own recovery.

Busy Busy Busy

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People with bipolar disorder often have a lot of extra time, and I am no exception. The time I have on my hands will be less in the not-too-distant future, because I will begin working as a Certified Peer Specialist Intern in a mental health clinic. The internship is only part-time and will last for just three months. Still, when one has not worked for a good many years, even a job of fifteen hours each week will probably drain me. That’s not to mention that the medication I take causes drowsiness already.

When we don’t have extra time due to not working, we have it since we aren’t sleeping. As unpleasant as it sounds, insomnia plagues persons with bipolar disorder especially during manic episodes. In any event, there is time to fill.

One of my favorite activities when I’m hyperactive yet unproductive is washing the dishes. I have a whole meditation exercise built around this seemingly mundane chore. I love the sound the water makes when I turn it on and the sight of the growing bubbles in the basin. My technique is to actually talk to myself while washing, and it calms me. I wrote about it in more detail here and here. I have heard from others it helps them feel calm, too.

I like reading, but it’s difficult when I’m in a manic mood. Walking soothes me just as dish washing does, and I have tried reading while pacing. Now, one needs skill not to bump into the furniture or even walls. Also, I can’t read dense prose while moving around. What was my answer? I found reading children’s books suitable. It distracts and entertains me. It doesn’t have to be a book full of pictures. A chapter book for young readers works perfectly.

Walking around my neighborhood is also a good idea. Weather permitting, I can stroll, enjoy the gardens, and assume I’m getting a bit of exercise. When I walk, I consciously spy on the most minute details. I notice the cracks in the pavement. I make a game of counting the colors of houses. I concentrate on my breath. What are the sights and sounds least readily apparent but present?

My town sits by the water, so I can walk there, taking in the smells and even talking to the fishermen. They are a garrulous bunch when I ask the right questions about weather conditions, fish, and bait.

Libraries hold treasures of reading material and people. They are an excellent place to volunteer, even if the only thing one contributes is dusting the books and shelves. All help is appreciated.

I write this blog and read dozens. It’s a small thing really. I’m not famous, nor will I ever be. I write as meditation. Crafting sentences pleases me. Thinking of words makes my mind click. It’s fun plain and simple.

There are so many ways to keep occupied:

  • Cooking new recipes
  • Listening to music
  • Learning a musical instrument
  • Cleaning something
  • Writing poetry
  • Studying a foreign language
  • Drawing a picture
  • Reading jokes
  • Searching the Internet for interesting pictures
  • Learning a new word

I am grateful to live during the dawn of the Internet. Information pours out of this machine at a rate incomprehensible even a few decades ago.

The world is literally my oyster.

I realize many items I’ve listed here are impossible for those suffering bouts of severe, chronic depression. I hope those people will not feel forgotten or excluded. I chatted with a good friend today who lives with major depression. My suggestion to him never changes: do one nice thing for yourself each day. When I was at my lowest, brushing my teeth was often the only nice thing I could accomplish.

We are all worthwhile. We can all do just a bit to help us. We can start loving us and reach out to those around us to share it.

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.

Diet and Exercise

I am about 30 or 35 pounds (13.6 to 15.9 kg) overweight. It’s ugly weight on my gut. Ugh.

Some of the medication I take for my bipolar disorder causes weight gain, but I know there are ways to alleviate the worst. Diet and exercise are a vital part of feeling better when you have mental illness. Well, they help everyone feel better.

A week ago, I started a low-fat diet, and I restarted my daily walk again. Yes, I stopped my daily walk back in July, because I was very busy with extracurricular activities. I was exhausted. I stopped walking, but I didn’t change my eating habits. Thus, I gained even more weight.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact I have only one pair of jeans that fit. All my pants, and I mean all, are too tight. So, I went shopping online for new pants in my larger waist size. Then…

…it hit me…

Why buy new clothes?

I did not like the way I looked or felt about my size, so why not change my unhealthy eating habits and start power walking again?

I have a group of friends online that I chat with daily, and I asked them if they would help motivate me. They all agreed, and some joined me in my new quest. They have been a great encouragement. When I feel like splurging and going off my new healthy eating habits, I send a message to one of them, and I receive words in return that help me through.

Weight gain is a problem for almost all people taking medication for mental illness. Losing weight while on these medications is very difficult.

I do not have unreasonable demands. I want to lose 30 or 35 pounds in four months. If something happens between now and then and I hit a plateau, I will not berate myself. I will continue to eat sensibly and exercise daily. I will be happy with whatever I’m able to lose.

I want to feel better. I want to do it for me.

Please, read those last two statements again. They represent enormous strides in advancing my self-esteem. I hated myself for a very long time indeed. I am beginning to love myself, and I believe it comes by doing lovable acts.

Taking care of myself is an act of love. Reaching out and being of service to those who need it is an act of love.

It’s a circle. By getting out of my head and into service for the good of mankind, I feel better about myself inside my head.

At least for today, I feel good.

More to Keep Me Busy

I’m a perpetual motion machine. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I need fuel from outside the system of self to feed my frantic behavior. I think I’m trying to convey the fact that I’m forever moving. I rock in my desk chair. I rock in my easy chair while reading. I scurry to the bathroom when my tea has quickly moved through my machine. I make meals in a hurry.

It’s hard to move slowly even in my tiny cottage of a house.

It’s hard to keep my brain from racing.

It’s hard not to race down to the mailbox by the road.

It’s hard to move calmly.

Here are some of the things I do to occupy my dismally short attention span:

I surf the Internet.

I rock in my chair and read.

I walk briskly.

I shop.

I return items I’ve bought.

I write here in my blog.

I call family or friends.

I count the days to the weekend.

I count the days.

I write poetry.

I wash dishes.

I eat.

I daydream.

I dust the shelves.

I shake the feather duster outside and watch the dust fly through the sunlight.

I dream of love.

I yearn for romance.

I vacuum the rooms.

I clean the bathroom.

I make the bed.

I brush my teeth.

I mosey down to the library to smell the books and read the newspapers.

I nag my caseworker needlessly.

I try to occupy myself constructively, but I often fail. I remember that the simple things in my day are what really occupies my time. So many days, I forget the small things in the rush to find something to do.

I actually did it

I can feel the depression coming. It feels like soft fingers reaching into my skull and absorbing all the electrical impulses running between the synapses of my brain. The result is that I’m left unimaginably desolate and despairing. I clutch at breath. The few thoughts my mind could hold last night were not pretty ones. They were full of death and anguish.

So what did I do? I forced my daughters to play cards with me. I got outside my brain and into a game.

This morning I was not feeling good either. I still had the sadness. A friend emailed me, and I replied with my state of mind. He suggested I get out of the house and go for a walk at a park.

I did it. I actually did it.

I got out of my house and went to the park and walked for a mile. Am I cured? No. I think I’ll keep taking my medication, but I think I’ll keep up the exercise.

What can I say? If you’re stuck in those thoughts of black despair where no light reaches and if you’re unable to get outdoors, can you open the curtains? Can you allow just a little light in? Try it. Try doing one nice thing for yourself today. Just one.