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.

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.

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.

Healing Trauma

It’s taken me some days to write again, because I came back from my second week of training with a horrible head and chest cold. Thankfully, it’s passing. After one whole day in bed reading, I’m feeling much better.

I learned some frightening things last week. Of the mental health consumers I will be working with, 91% will have experienced serious trauma. The definition for trauma we were given was “extreme stress brought on by shocking or unexpected events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in feelings of helplessness and extreme fear and horror. The survivor perceives the event as bodily violation  threat of death or serious injury to self or a loved one. The event may be witnessed or experienced directly.”

All kinds of things can be traumatic. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale tries to delineate the spectrum of major life stressors. Death of a spouse is highest on the list for adults. Death of a parent is highest for non-adults. It goes on to many other events, and it even includes Christmas as a major stress point.

The most devastating effect trauma has on a person is the shattering of trust and safety leaving a person feeling powerless. Thus, we spent a good deal of time learning about techniques for aiding recovery. Each participant had to face their own trauma, and indeed one person chose to drop out. It was a very sad experience for all of us.

Each of us was given a book that will be enormously useful. Seeking Safety by Lisa Najavits is a seminal text on conducting groups aimed at providing tools for recovery. There are pages of information, but the bulk of it is a workbook for conducting groups. When I am finished with training and during my internship and afterward, I will be facilitating Seeking Safety groups as well as WRAP groups.

The best possible outcome for me has been a personal transformation. I’ve already written about how my negative self-talk has ceased as a direct result of creating my personal WRAP. I have gained a sense of hope for the future I’ve not felt for many years.

I want to help, and now I believe I can do it.

For the first time ever in my 49 years, fear is not ruling my decisions.

I am born anew.

I am born anew.

Week 2 of Job Training

The second week of job training starts tomorrow, and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to it so much that I only got five hours sleep last night. That’s not a good thing for me. I normally sleep nine whole hours. I’m concerned that it’s a sign of a swing toward mania.

I got some very good financial news recently, and I’m watching myself for signs of overspending. Spending sprees are a symptom of bipolar widely recognized by psychiatry. There’s nothing better than a whole day spent losing money I don’t have for this gay man. So far, the only luxury has been a dinner with one of my daughters at a cheap restaurant. I don’t think that’s overdoing it yet.

I’m taking my medication as prescribed. I am taking care of myself by brushing my teeth, etc. I am doing the daily maintenance called for in my WRAP.

Who am I kidding? I’m not faithfully following my WRAP. I’m neither meditating nor exercising. I am doing the other things on my Plan:

  • maintaining my sobriety
  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating healthy meals
  • chatting with my best friend
  • checking in with myself
  • talking to supporters
  • educating myself about my recovery and my illness
  • writing
  • being open about my sexuality

I am following those points on my Plan but not two important ones.

Meditating keeps me focused. Even a short five-minute session in the morning affects my mood for the whole day. I sit on a stool in my bedroom and breathe, and then I follow a well-worn path to my happy place, which you can read about here.

I want to exercise. I love walking. I love power walking to be precise. But I can’t right now. I’ve developed painful plantar faciitis, and simple walking around the house is difficult. The good news is that the job training requires me to travel and stay in a hotel with an exercise room. Perhaps there will be some machine there I can use. If I like it, I’ll check out the YMCA’s gym when I get home next week. Maybe I’ll join.

You know what? I’m really fine. I will meditate today and hobble around a local park for some fresh air. I’ve made — what are for me — earth-shattering changes in the last three weeks, and I am happy.

I am happy!

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? - Rumi

You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life? – Rumi

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!

We Can Recover from Mental Illness

There are stages in the recovery process of mental illness similar to stages in the grieving process. But wait. Did I just write the words “recovery process”? There must be something amiss here. Something’s gone awry. Recovery? Can there be recovery from mental illness?

Yes!

I completed my first week of training for a new job recently. For those just stumbling across this blog, I’m becoming a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health. I have three more weeks of classes and then a three-month internship. It’s intensive and tiring. My brain hasn’t been used this much in years.

The first week felt so good. I grasped and really appreciated so many things. There was so much information to absorb. I was humbled and excited to be a part of it. I am learning to help myself recover and then to help others by sharing my own recovery story.

We are learning about WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD) and how to maintain our own wellness and recovery. It has many parts, and I want to get to it. First, let me say the program is not mine. I did not originate it. You cannot learn it from me in this single blog entry. If you are truly interested in wellness and recovery from mental illness, then I encourage you to follow the link and order Dr. Copeland’s book and join a WRAP group.

We all possess tools to help us stay well. Physically, we have hunger and thirst to remind us to eat and drink appropriately. Mentally, we have needs for social interaction and friendship. I believe we have innate yearnings for nurturing. We search for love and acceptance. When mental illness strikes, it skews the core of those desires and things get out of whack.

We often require medical intervention to set things aright, but there is much we can do on our own. For my own early recognition of self-help, you can read this blog entry from two years ago. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan puts it all in much greater detail and to much greater effectiveness.

Beginning, we each create a daily maintenance plan. Importantly, we are asked to start by taking a good long look at ourselves when we are well. Encouraged by a long exercise of listing exemplary attributes, we can begin to feel the hope this whole program engenders. My list includes things like out and proud to be gay, sober, getting exercise, taking medication, and many other things.

The daily maintenance plan goes on to list vital things we do each day to stay well. Some items are repeated from the previous list, but that’s OK. I added things like checking in with close friends and family and supporters. The whole notion is to build a list of daily activities I can do to aid my recovery and wellness.

Then there is a list of things I do to keep well, but not daily. Simple items like buying groceries appear on this list. I also put down hiking and writing letters.

After the daily maintenance plan, there are five more sections of what is called the wellness toolbox. I’m not going into detail here about each of those pieces, because I don’t want to give the impression that this is something that can be easily transferred in one sitting. My own WRAP toolbox took days and is still a work in progress, and it will take me many more days of classes and study to learn to teach others how to make their own.

The point to be taken away from this post is the hope that the program brings. Persons with mental illness can recover. We can be vital advocates in our own plan for wellness. We are not pawns of any system. We are not defined by our disease.

To paraphrase something I wrote a few entries ago, I am an active participant in my own wellness and recovery today.